| VHP leader Ashok Singhal (left) argues with a policeman in Ayodhya on Friday. (AFP)
Ayodhya, Oct. 17: Nothing came of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s scheduled “sankalp sabha” today other than a brief battle between its supporters and police that ended in arrests, a darshan of Ram Lalla and a bandh call that was withdrawn.
The battle was expected after the VHP decided to stick to its original plan of a programme at Karsevakpuram, the outfit’s sprawling office-cum-residential complex about 2 km from the disputed site in Ayodhya.
The Mulayam Singh Yadav regime had disallowed any activity within a radius of 5 km from the site. Yet, the police allowed about 700 Ram bhakts to enter Karsevakpuram from early morning. Their logic was managing them within four walls would be easier.
Around 9.45 am, Faizabad district magistrate Deepak Kumar ordered a clampdown as the Ram bhakts continued to shout slogans such as “Jai Shri Ram” and brandish tridents. They were waiting to hear VHP and religious leaders speak.
Senior superintendent of police Rajeev Sabbarwal urged the crowd to surrender. The Ram bhakts responded with missiles of stones, iron rods and sticks as they tried to evade arrest for violating prohibitory orders. The police retaliated with teargas, five rounds of plastic bullets and a cane-charge.
The mob scampered towards multi-storeyed residential buildings in Karsevakpuram, reached the roof and continued the combat, throwing boulders and iron rods.
As the Rapid Action Force and the Provincial Armed Constabulary battled the devotees, VHP leader Ashok Singhal appeared in the complex and started briefing the media.
Singhal, in saffron clothes and ash-smeared forehead, was cordoned off by senior police officers and detained. Former BJP MP Ram Vilas Vedanti, too, was detained in the temple town.
Within 20 minutes, the battle was over and the Ram bhakts were being shunted out to jails, by bus, in the nearby districts of Basti, Gonda and Pratapgarh.
“This is Ravan rajya. We are not being allowed to listen to religious leaders and have darshan of our god,” a Ram bhakt shouted as he was being led away.
“We waited for two hours, but had to fire teargas shells and plastic bullets after the Ram bhakts turned violent, throwing rods, stones and wooden blocks at us,” inspector-general of police V.. Rai said.
The arrested VHP supporters, including women, however, were allowed to have a darshan of Ram Lalla under supervision.
Singhal said his outfit has called a countrywide bandh on Sunday to protest the government’s “repression”.
“Mulayam Singh has done it. The Centre is also responsible for this by sending central paramilitary forces.”
Late tonight, the bandh call was withdrawn. VHP media in-charge Sharad Sharma attributed the move to Diwali. The outfit, however, would stage dharnas and demonstrations across the country that day, he said.
The residents snubbed the VHP programme for the first time. “I have participated in each programme, and would even organise bhandara (mass free meals) for the devotees. But this time, I did not participate,” resident Deepak Shukla said.
Mulayam thanks PM
The chief minister did not forget to thank the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government as he heaved a sigh of relief today: “Agnipariksha (test by fire) is over.”
“The central government not only provided us with all the force that we needed, but scrupulously honoured the time-bound conventions of Centre-state relations,” Mulayam Singh told a news conference this afternoon, after ordering the release of 30,000 arrested VHP supporters.