| Policemen stand guard under a platform built for the launch of the VHP yatra in Godhra. (Reuters)
The situation report from Ahmedabad at 12 noon, Sunday: “You tell Narendrabhai that I have instructed our workers to maintain peace.”
An “arrested” Praveen Togadia kept his word, relayed over a mobile phone to the Gujarat chief minister from a police stadium that was turned into a benevolent — and shortlived — prison camp for the foot soldiers of the Godhra yatra that never was.
Togadia also lived up to the Sangh parivar shouting sena’s “roar-and-retreat” reputation that debuted during the Ayodhya shila daan stand-off in March, limiting the proposed Godhra yatra to a puja at the Somnath temple and getting nowhere near the combustible town.
VHP leaders Togadia and Acharya Dharmendra, who were to lead the controversial Vijay Yatra from Godhra to Gandhinagar, were picked up before they could proceed from Ahmedabad.
The two, along with a cluster of supporters, were arrested as soon as they set off for Godhra on a mechanised rath after performing puja and taking a pledge to make “Bharat a Hindu Rashtra”. Three hours later, all those arrested were taken to a court and released on bail.
Pushed to the wall by the Election Commission and persuaded by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Gujarat administration gave law enforcers a free hand today — unlike in the immediate aftermath of the Godhra carnage.
In Godhra, the law enforcers literally took over the yatra launch pad with khaki-clad, gun-toting policemen taking positions beneath a platform that was supposed to be teeming with saffron-robed VHP supporters.
In Ahmedabad, the whiff of an “understanding” hung heavy in the air, which grew strong when Togadia was allowed to use the public address system outside the Somnath temple. An hour earlier, a group of VHP supporters, including Togadia’s wife and daughter, was arrested for refusing to switch off the same system.
Togadia himself said the police were kept in the picture throughout what several residents described as a “political drama”. “Everything was done as per the plan and strategy with the cooperation of police,” he told reporters during a chat at the stadium. “This is a political drama. They (the Gujarat government and the VHP) are in it together. The ultimate aim is to drive us out,” a hotelier from the minority community said in Ahmedabad.
In Godhra, despite prohibitory orders, VHP state vice-president Haresh Bhatt managed to enter the town. However, he was not allowed to reach a college ground where a public meeting was to be held.
The acharya — who had yesterday poured scorn on the Prime Minister — was silent on Vajpayee today but Togadia did take a swipe.
“The VHP motive is clear and it is to remove all those chief ministers and Prime Ministers who object to the formation of Hindu Rashtra,” Togadia said after his release. Asked about VHP leaders’ comments against Vajpayee, Togadia said: “The PM himself got into a controversy by supporting Lyngdoh’s decision. If he (the Prime Minister) can express his views through a TV channel, what is the harm if we also do the same'”
Togadia, as well as the rest of the VHP leadership, indicated that the “struggle” will continue in the form of new programmes. The outfit will also go ahead with a programme in Gujarat to mark the tenth anniversary of the Babri demolition as “Vijay Diwas”. Togadia said the VHP decided to cooperate with the officials to ensure that peace is not disturbed and that the poll panel is not given an excuse to postpone the December 12 elections.
Without asking the people to vote for the BJP, Togadia said: “December 12 is my birthday. I ask for a birthday gift in the form of a massive mandate — a mandate to merge Pakistan in Bharat where there will be no Islamabad and Rawalpindi.”