Police on Monday arrested Ramesh Das, a disciple of Mahant Bhavnath Das, in connection with the shootout between two groups of mahants (priests) in which a labourer was killed near the Hanumangarhi temple on Sunday afternoon.
Ramesh Das has been charged with murder. The shootout took place in the Nazarbagh locality of the town, about a kilometre from the Hanumangarhi temple which falls in the red security zone of Ayodhya.
It was the result of a dispute wherein the group led by Mahant Bhavnath Das had blocked the passage of another mahant — Hari Shankar Das — through a building which was in his (Bhavnath Das’s) possession.
As news of the passageway being blocked by one group spread, seers from another sect gathered and opened fire from rifles. Seven rounds were fired, police said. The deceased was a labourer Bharat from Barabanki. Seers Anil Das, Chela Balram Das and a passerby were wounded in the firing. Both sides lodged complaints, police said.
"The two groups owed allegiance to Mahant Bhavnath Das and Mahant Harishankar Das, both from Hanumangarhi," said an official.
Mahant Bhavnath Das is national president of Samajwadi Sant Sabha, an outfit of the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP).
"We will ensure hostilities do not escalate," a police officer said.
Police presence in the area has been increased as it is near the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi site. Four sects control the Hanumangarhi temple. Bhavnath Das belongs to one of them, the Haridwari sect.
Harishankar Das owes allegiance to the Sagaria sect.