The Uttar Pradesh government on Sunday drew clearer battle lines in its standoff with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) as top leaders of the saffron group, including Ashok Singhal and Praveen Togadia were detained along with over 2,000 supporters over their yatra or Chaurasi Kosi parikrama at the communally sensitive Ayodhya.
The move seemed to stall the yatra at Ayodhya aimed at reviving the contentious Ram temple issue ahead of the 2014 general elections even though the VHP said that hundreds of asadhus from across the country have left for Ayodhya and they can´t be stopped.
In protest against the arrests of its top leaders, who were sent to 14-day judicial custody, and supporters, the VHP has decided to hold demonstrations across the country on Monday.
While VHP chief Ashok Singhal was detained at Lucknow airport, senior leader Praven Togadia was arrested while trying to offer prayers at the Saryu river banks in Ayodhya. Ex-BJP Member of Parliament Ram Vilas Vedanti and former Ayodhya MLA Lallu Singh were also arrested.
The Uttar Pradesh government fortified Ayodhya with 8000 cops and arrested more than 2000 people from across the state, in a decisive blow to the planned 300-km march through six districts - Faizabad, Barabanki, Bahraich, Basti, Gonda and Ambedkar Nagar - that circle Ayodhya.ya
While the main opposition Bharat Janaty Party (BJP) officially maintained a distance from the controversy, party leaders protested the crackdown in Delhi and Lucknow.
Tensions between the UP government and VHP following Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav´s denial for the VHP yatra in the state that was scheduled to start from Sunday. The proposed yatra, whose fate is under a heavy cloak of security, was scheduled to continue till September 13.
While flag marches by security personnel were being carried out since Saturday, prohibitory laws like Section 144 has been invoked in six districts of Faizabad, Basti, Barabanki, Gonda, Bahraich and Ambedkar Nagar.
Reports said 8,000 police and paramilitary personnel were deployed in the Ayodhya region additionally besides the usual yearlong 1,600 paramilitary men stationed there.
During the proposed yatra, the VHP, which is affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), had planned to renew its campaign for the construction of a Ram temple at the long disputed Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi site in Ayodhya.
A senior UP official told media that the yatra was denied as it would have violated the directives of the Supreme Court.
VHP leaders had earlier met UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to seek administrative support for the proposed 300 km yatra of saints to Ayodhya, called the Chaurasi Kosi parikrama.
The yatra was discontinued about 50 years ago and has not been held since.