The Uttar Pradesh government's lockdown of almost the entire state and early morning arrests of senior VHP leaders and seers scuttled the saffron outfit's Sunday launch of its chaurasi (84) kosi yatra in support of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Round 1 has gone to the state government but the next 19 days - the yatra is to culminate on September 13 - will be tense, as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leaders are firm on going ahead with their plan.
The government, which has banned the yatra, looked in no mood to relent and said the security arrangements would remain in place till the VHP abandoned its plan. As many as 2,096 arrests had been made till 8pm Sunday. The state has asked for more paramilitary forces from the Centre.
It was a tense day as Hindu activists and BJP leaders faced off with the security personnel at various places but no violence was reported from any part of the state.
With top leaders failing to reach Ayodhya, VHP activists tried using guerrilla tactics to carry out the march, but scattered in the face of an unrelenting police force.
Praveen Togadia, was held in Ayodhya. He reportedly sneaked in from neighbouring Faizabad. The yatra was to begin from the banks of Saryu in the temple town.
Soon after he arrived at the Lucknow airport from Delhi at around 9.30am, VHP leader Ashok Singhal was arrested.
Singhal asked, "Why am I being arrested, what crime have I done...They should tell me. There is Mughal rule in Uttar Pradesh, where saints and seers are being stopped from worship".
Asked if he would go back to Delhi, Singhal, who refused to leave the airport, shot back, "Why should I go back...I have come here to go to Ayodhya."
"This is not a political yatra but a religious one and ban or oppression resorted to by the government would not be tolerated at any cost," he told reporters.
"The yatra cannot be stopped now... Saints from over 700 districts of the country will continue to reach Ayodhya," Singhal said, asking the government to reconsider the ban.
"This movement would reach each and every village of the country and tomorrow protest dharnas would be staged at district headquarters all over the country," he said.
To ensure that they stay behind bars till September 13, the state government has moved court for 14-day judicial remand of Singhal, Togadia and many others.
"Though the VHP leaders have been put in guesthouses they would be shifted to jail soon," secretary (home) Kamal Saxena said.
Ram Janmabhumi Nyas chief Nritya Gopal Das symbolically inaugurated the yatra by walking 10 steps outside his temple before he was detained.
"We have inaugurated the yatra. But this yatra should not be politicised. It is carried out all 12 months (not time bound)," Gopal Das said.
Crackdown continued across the state - and not just the six Muslim-majority districts that are on the yatra route - on Sunday as well, with securitymen in riot gear patrolling the streets backed by water-canon vehicles and equipped with teargas shells.
Arrests were made from bus stands, trains as well as railway stations and were continuing when the reports last came in. Many seers were put under house arrest in Ayodhya.
Three-tier security arrangements are in place to prevent volunteers from reaching the temple town. The borders with neighbouring states have been sealed and barriers erected along the highways.
In the second part of the drill, borders of Faizabad, Barabanki, Gonda, Bahraich, Basti and Ambedkar Nagar districts - from where the yatra is to pass- are sealed as well.
The yatra, which is being held to push for the Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, is to pass through 600 villages of these districts that have a sizeable Muslim population.
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