The Vishwa Hindu Parishad called for a shutdown in Odisha’s communally-sensitive Kandhamal district on Saturday after the local administration barred its international president Pravin Togadia from entering the area for seven days, effectively stopping him from addressing a scheduled meeting.
The move came after a Christian group wrote to chief minister Naveen Patnaik, opposing the hardline Hindu leader’s address at the VHP’s golden jubilee celebrations, saying Togadia’s visit could fan communal tension.
A Christian resident of Kandhamal, Ramakant Baliyarsingh, also asked the district administration to ban Togadia’s visit.
“We have clamped Section 144 on Togadia’s visit for seven days from Thursday in view of apprehension of breach in peace and public order. We took the step after analysing the district’s recent events,” Kandhamal collector N Thirumala Nayak said.
Police also beefed up security arrangements and deployed personnel in sensitive places to maintain law and order, In view of the communally-charged atmosphere and the proposed shutdown.
The district has a history of communal violence with anti-Christian riots leaving at least 38 dead and thousands displaced in 2008 after the murder of VHP leader Laxmanananda Saraswati.
“Since Togadia is known for instigating such violence, allowing him to address a gathering in this region is reason enough for the Christian community to fear for their safety,” said Abraham Mathai said, president of the Indian Christan Voice, the group that wrote to the CM.
Local VHP leaders in Kandhamal, however, said the administration had violated Togadia’s fundamental right to religious freedom. “In the past, the administration has allowed Christian missionaries to address public meetings. How can it deny the same right to a Hindu leader,” asked VHP leader Bhagaban Mohanty.
This is not the first time the controversial Hindu leader has been barred from addressing meetings in the country. Earlier this month, Togadia was barred from entering Guwahati and Bengaluru by the local administration amid fears that his communal speeches may instigate communal disharmony.