Court dismisses PIL against ban on VHP’s yatra

With the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s 84 Kosi Parikrama Yatra set to begin from the banks of the Saryu River on Sunday, the Uttar Pradesh administration on Saturday cracked down on the Hindu rightwing organisation, arresting over 350 of its activists across the State.

The administration sealed entry points into the district as the VHP remained defiant, determined to go ahead with its yatra, which is being held in support of a Ram Mandir at the disputed site here. The yatra has been banned by the State.

BJP MLA Savitri Bai Phule, VHP’s provincial coordinator Acharya Kushmuni and Mahant Santosh Das alias Sathu Baba, a VHP office-bearer in Varanasi, were taken into preventive custody or put under house arrest, while prominent VHP leader Mahant Ram Saran Das was held at Ram Sanehi Ghat in Ayodhya.

Scores of VHP activists were arrested in various parts of the State, including Kanpur (100), Allahabad (43) and Basti (18). Arrest warrants have been issued against VHP leaders Ashok Singhal, Praveen Togadia and Ram Vilas Vedanti, Faizabad district magistrate Vipin Kumar Dwivedi said.

The police raided the VHP’s suspected hideouts, forcing many of its leaders and activists to go underground. However, according to local sources, senior leaders could appear with seers.

Lucknow IG Subash Chandra, who conducted a tour of vulnerable spots, said, “This yatra goes against tradition. We are fully prepared not to let it happen. Section 144 Cr.PC has been imposed and action will be taken against those violating it.”

Schools have been converted into temporary jails to keep those booked under Section 144.

The administration expected around 40,000 people to participate. However, the VHP maintained that no common people were invited and that politicians would not get on the dais to address the seers or participants. Around 200-250 seers would participate in the yatra, which the VHP defined as a “padhyatra [march] to awaken the Hindus within the cultural boundary [roughly 250 km] of Ayodhya.”

VHP president Praveen Togadia said that it was “not a large congregation” so the State government should not panic. It was actually a march but since the saints termed it “parikrama” it was being viewed as a traditional parikrama. The State justified the ban, pointing out that the traditional period for staging the parikrama had passed in April-May. Sharad Sharma, VHP spokesperson said, “It is the right of the seers to carry out the yatra. This is religious, not political. The government has ruined the atmosphere for its political gains.”

Amid speculation that the VHP might cancel the yatra at the last moment fearing administrative action and considering the law and order situation, Mr. Sharma said, “This will be decided at the last moment. If the seers decide to carry out rituals at the starting point itself, that will be followed. But there is no possibility of cancellation.”

Mr. Sharma lashed out at the SP government for “working under the grip of Azam Khan [Minister]” to appease Muslims, who are a votebank for the party.