Amid high drama and tight security, the Uttar Pradesh government on Sunday clamped down on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s padayatra for a Ram Temple in Ayodhya, with the arrest of key leaders, including Praveen Togadia, for defying prohibitory orders

Amid high drama and tight security, the Uttar Pradesh government on Sunday clamped down on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s padayatra for a Ram Temple in Ayodhya, with the arrest of key leaders, including Praveen Togadia, for defying prohibitory orders. Mr. Togadia was arrested near the Sadguru temple on the banks of the Saryu amid a posse of officials, mediapersons and supporters as he attempted to initiate the yatra.

Though the 84 Kosi padayatra could not be taken out due to the government’s action, a defiant Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas Committee chairman Mahant Nritya Gopal Das symbolically inaugurated it by taking 10 steps outside his temple at the Ramdas Chaoni. Moments later, he was put under house arrest, as were many other VHP leaders. Over 800 people were detained across the State and some sent to makeshift jails, even as Section 144 was imposed in Ayodhya.

VHP leader Ashok Singhal was detained at Lucknow airport, where he courted arrest and refused to return to New Delhi.

“I want to go to Ayodhya. I won’t go back to Delhi. The seers have fixed dates for the yatra. This is not a common yatra. How can they stop the seers from worship?” he asked.

Sunday morning saw the administration and VHP leaders play cat and mouse with each other. Security personnel raided various locations suspected to be the hideouts of VHP leaders on the ghats of the Saryu. BJP MP Ram Vilas Vedanti and sitting MLA Ram Chandra Yadav were arrested early in the morning while they were on their way to a ghat in Ayodhya.

However, before Mr. Togadia’s arrest, senior officials and journalists scurried from one place to another in search of him. Moments before he was held, Mr. Togadia appeared in a Hindi news channel interview from what appeared to be inside a temple in Ayodhya. This made the administration frantic and it launched a door-to-door search.

“This is not political. I assure you that this yatra will be non-violent and peaceful. We have not called any activist from Uttar Pradesh or other States. Why is the State behaving like this? Is it a sin for 200-250 seers to assemble in a democratic way?”

Surrounded by supporters and seers, amid chants of “Jai Sriram,” Mr. Togadia courted arrest at the Golaghat area after emerging from a temple.

To a question by The Hindu whether the administration knew of Mr. Togadia’s location, Faizabad DIG B.D Paulson said: “Our job was to arrest him if he violated prohibitory orders. It is no crime to enter Faizabad. We kept track of the possible locations as per information and arrested him.”

In addition to political parties, even seers criticised the VHP. Mahant Gyandas, head of the committee that organises the parikrama every year, attacked it for going against tradition and playing politics.