Ayodhya, Aug. 24: More than 200 VHP activists were arrested today as the Akhilesh Yadav government moved to enforce a ban it has ordered on a march to Ayodhya to build support for a Ram temple.
But while cracking down on the outfit, the government has also instructed police to exercise caution and avoid the use of brute force so that there is no repeat of the 1990 mishandling.
“I can assure you that the VHP supporters… would not be allowed to enter Ayodhya tomorrow. They would be stopped at the outskirts of the town. I can also assure you that there would not be any violence tomorrow,” Faizabad district magistrate Bipin Chandra Dwivedi said this evening.
Dwivedi said over 80 VHP workers were arrested today from Faizabad alone, taking the arrests across the state to 238. About 500 sadhus and disciples are under house arrest at temple trusts in Ayodhya. The police have converted six schools into temporary jails in Faizabad, suspending academic activities.
Samajwadi Party leaders are taking on the VHP on many fronts, including trying to drive a wedge among different groups of sadhus, to prevent a direct showdown and subsequent Hindu backlash, like that of 1990, ahead of the 2014 elections.
In October 1990, the Samajwadi government of Mulayam Singh Yadav had opened fire on VHP workers in Ayodhya, resulting in many deaths.
Samajwadi spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary said the police would do their job but every step was being taken to guard against “overreaction”.
During a meeting yesterday between the chief minister and legislators of the six districts where the VHP march is planned, Akhilesh had asked the MLAs to see that the kar sevaks were stopped outside Ayodhya, Chaudhary said.
The Samajwadis appeared to have won over Mahant Gaya Das, a VHP secretary in Ayodhya, who has publicly declared that the proposed parikrama is “not in accordance with the tradition and ritual of parikrama”.
But Mahant Bhagwat Das, another VHP activist, said that while Gaya Das may not agree with this parikrama, he is very much with the VHP.
Samajwadi minister Azam Khan, who had gone to Hardwar to woo sadhus, also appeared to have had success with Govardhanpeeth Puri Shankaracharya Swami Adhokchajanand. Adhokchajanand has called the VHP parikrama a “farce” and “conspiracy by people out to earn a bad name for Hinduism”.
But the VHP is gearing up to reach the Saryu riverbed tomorrow. Spokesperson Prakash Sharma said today in Delhi that the parikrama “will be carried out peacefully”.
At the Saryu bank, there were no priests or devotees and the shops selling flowers, fruits and garlands were shut today as 40 armed policemen stood guard.
Sixty-six people from Rajasthan on bus to Ayodhya to join the march were arrested in Agra. At least six police checkposts between Lucknow and Faizabad have slowed down traffic. All borders have been sealed.
The Akhilesh government’s efforts got a boost when a division bench of Allahabad High Court dismissed a petition seeking revocation of the ban on the parikrama on the grounds that it was part of “Hindu religious custom”.