The Allahabad Friendship Festival, a public healing and Christian prayer meeting, began on Wednesday amid protests by right-wing groups, which alleged that the event was aimed at “mass conversion”.

The show was addressed by Sweden-born Canadian evangelist Peter Youngren, who was denied permission to visit India in 1998 by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government.

Right-wing groups, led by the RSS and the VHP, have been protesting against the event. A public interest litigation petition, seeking a ban on the event, has also been filed in the Allahabad High Court by the Akhil Bharatiya Samajik Samarastra Abhiyan. The court has asked government counsel to seek instructions from the district administration. The administration will monitor the event through videography to check any misuse for “conversion”.

Dismissing allegations that the event was being held for mass conversion, Dr. Youngren said he was “misinterpreted” and “was not here to create difference among communities by urging people to join a particular religion. I am not here to convert people”.

Apprehending trouble, the administration had arranged for heavy security, deploying the Rapid Action Force and the Provincial Armed Constabulary, at the venue. Around 20 protesters were detained. The posters for the event say the blind, deaf and physically challenged can get healed at his meetings. The five-day event will last till October 27.

Earlier this year, the VHP protested Dr. Youngren’s visit to Nagpur. The VHP criticised the Samajwadi Party government for allowing the programme but “preventing” the VHP’s 84-Kosi Yatra and Sankalp Yatra in the name of law and order.