Ayodhya resembled a fortress, as the Uttar Pradesh government tightened the security cordon to enforce its ban on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s proposed Chaurasi (84) Kos Parikrama scheduled to begin on Sunday.
The government on Saturday intensified the crackdown on the Hindu organisation’s sadhus, leaders and volunteers in and around Ayodhya and six neighbouring districts to prevent the foot march, which has been renamed 84-kos pad yatra.
The last time such tight security cover was thrown over the town was in September 2010, when a court had delivered a verdict on the disputed Babri Masjid-Ramjanambhoomi land.
Continuing the crackdown launched on Friday evening, the police arrested more than 200 VHP activists in the early hours of Saturday.
Prominent VHP sadhu Ram Saran Das was held at Ram Sanehi Ghat in Ayodhya, while many activists were arrested from the Agra route, the Basti-Gorakhpur route and the Sultanpur-Rae Bareily route to the town.
The police have been instructed not to let VHP leaders get out of their houses and instantly arrest them if they do.
Heavy police deployment is in force in the twin towns of Faizabad-Ayodhya and outsiders are not being allowed inside. Locals are being allowed to enter after intense frisking and establishment of identity.
Faizabad district magistrate VK Dewedi said the police had been instructed not to disturb locals engaged in routine work.
Senior superintendent of police KB Singh said VHP saints would be respectfully stopped from going towards Ayodhya and if they were arrested, forces would provide due care to them.
The Faizabad district administration has arrested 50 persons under precautionary measures so far, but not named them.
The police have also undertaken checking drives at the railway station, bus station, hotels, dharamshalas and guesthouses.
Leaving nothing to chance, the government has engaged 36 magistrates to supervise the law and order situation at various barriers and sensitive spots.
The district administration has prepared a list of nearly 300 persons under A, B and C categories depending on their level of influence and expected contribution to the foot march.
From this list, 72 are in the top A bracket and under watch of intelligence units. “They can be arrested any time,” said a police official who did not want to be named.
VHP activists, meanwhile, are determined to make the foot march a success.
A large number of sadhus have already gathered at various shrines such as Char-Dham, Mani Ram Das Chawani and Guptar Ghat.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s former district president BB Mani Tripathi and his supporters assessed preparations for the march till late on Friday night.
The state’s Shiv Sena unit too has announced its support for the VHP’s march.
Sadhu Shyam Sundar Das said the government had no right to intervene in any peaceful religious programme.
The state government’s crackdown began on Friday with the arrest of 17 VHP volunteers in Fatehpur district located 195 km south of Ayodhya. They were held while heading for Ayodhya to participate in the march.
UP chief secretary Jawed Usmani has instructed officials to ensure zero-violation of the ban on the VHP’s march.
He has also issued instructions for proper arrangement of food and water at the makeshift jails readied by the administration to hold VHP leaders and activists.