The Sangh Parivar and the BJP observed a 12-hour bandh in Kandhamal on Saturday in protest against the denial of permission by the Orissa government for the firebrand Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia to enter the district.

Workers held demonstrations in Bhubaneswar, Berhampur, Bolangir, Sambalpur and Cuttack.

VHP activists blocked National Highway 217, which connects Berhampur with Kandhamal, for one hour. They took out a rally and burnt an effigy of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

Shops closed

In Kandhamal district, many business establishments remained closed in Phulbani, Raikia, Baliguda and G.Udaygiri. VHP activists picketed government offices and banks. However, educational institutions and vehicular traffic were spared. No untoward incident was reported from any part of the district.

An additional police force was put on alert in the district and an intensified vigil was maintained in communally sensitive areas.

On Friday night, Mr. Togadia, along with some BJP and Sangh Parivar leaders, was stopped at Charichhak in Boudh district. He was to halt in Phulbani for the night and leave for Bhanjanagar in Ganjam district on Saturday morning after attending a meeting of VHP leaders there. But the administration, through a special notification, banned the entry of Mr. Togadia and three other VHP leaders to Kandhamal. When his motorcade was stopped, Mr. Togadia staged a dharna on the road at Charichhak.

The police arrested 27 persons including Mr. Togadia, Orissa BJP vice-president Ashok Sahu and State Bajrang Dal chief Subash Chohan when they tried to defy the ban order. Mr. Togadia was lodged in a forest guest house at Charichhak for the night. He was released on a personal bond on Saturday morning. Then he took a detour to reach Bhanjanagar in Ganjam district as he was not allowed to pass through Kandhamal district.

Addressing a public meeting at Bhanjanagar, Mr. Togadia accused the government of adopting double standards. When it allowed a European Union delegation to visit Kandhamal, why was he not allowed to pass through the district, he asked?