The Uttar Pradesh administration on Sunday arrested key leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad but there was little sympathy for the VHP’s renewed push for a temple at the disputed Ramjanmabhoomi/Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya among key Hindu seers in this holy town, with many of them lashing out at the organisation for using the Ram Mandir issue for political gains.

Mahant Gyandas, head of the committee that organises the “parikrama” each year, attacked the VHP for going against tradition and playing politics. “The yatra has always been held from Chaitra Purnima to Baisakh Navami, according to rituals. I have been participating since I was 10. It has already been performed by the sadhus in the correct time and the original parikrama is done.”

Criticised for terming the yatra a ‘parikrama’ despite it already being held, VHP spokesperson Sharad Sharma clarified that it was not a parikrama but a padyatra and that seers had chosen to term it a parikrama as the routes were the same. “It is a jan jagran padyatra (march), where only 200-250 seers would participate. No VHP activists or politicians have been invited,” he said, adding that no politician would be allowed to speak from the dais.

However, Mahant Gyandas hit back at the VHP, saying: “Now at the last moment they are claiming that the media misquoted it as parikrama? They themselves sent pamphlets calling it a parikrama. I attended the meeting, which included Ashok Singhal,” he said.

The Mahant also questioned the route selected by the VHP for its yatra as it included some “communally volatile” places and Muslim populated areas.

“It’s an attempt to polarise votes and disrupt communal harmony,” said Mahant Jugal Kishore Sharan Shastri, former VHP secretary and chief priest of Saryu Kunj temple, close to the disputed temple site.

“The VHP is out to defame Hindus and their interests. But the people of Ayodhya have understood their schemes and are not bothered.”

Claiming that in the last 20 years the VHP had lost support in Ayodhya, he said only those with vested interests still participated in its programmes. “We must give credit to the public of Ayodhya for not letting the VHP spoil the communal harmony, which the peace-loving locals consider dear.”

Ram Janmabhoomi head priest Mahant Satyendra Das also said that the purpose of the yatra was to polarise votes for electoral gains. “It doesn’t matter if the yatra takes place or not, it is a win-win situation for the parties involved.”

The purpose to politicise it was served, he said, adding that once an issue is politicised like this it is bound to be milked for political gains.

The saints are being used for “vested interests,” the seer said, adding that the order of the Supreme Court on the dispute would be followed and respected.

The priests also praised the administration for not letting the yatra start as they felt it could have led to communal tension. Mahant Shastri added that since the Muslims were an important vote bank for the SP, the VHP was specially targeting the party to polarise votes.