Lucknow: The Uttar Pradesh government put in place a massive security build-up across the state to foil a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) bid to stage a religious event in Ayodhya Sunday. The Hindu group's leaders announced a national stir against the crackdown.
While hundreds of VHP activists and seers were arrested from different parts of the state for trying to carry out the "84 kosi parikrama yatra", VHP's top leaders were detained in Lucknow and Ayodhya.
Home department officials told IANS the situation was peaceful across the state.
Almost 1,700 people were detained for breaching prohibitory orders, the officials said.
Senior VHP leader Ashok Singhal, who was arrested soon after he landed at the Amausi airport here and was packed off to Nawabganj bird sanctuary guest house in neighbouring Unnao district, slammed the Akhilesh Yadav government for the crackdown.
Noting he had come to be part of a peaceful ritual of saints but was prevented to go to Ayodhya, the 87-year-old leader also warned the state government not to play with the sentiments of Hindus.
He also said that Lord Ram would no longer live under a tent and demanded that parliament pass a legislation for construction of a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya.
"Ram Lala has won the court's battle and now the parliament should pass an early resolution to make a grand temple," he added.
VHP leader Praveen Togadia, soon after his arrest, slammed the UP government for its crackdown on a "purely religious ritual" and accused the Samajwadi Party of minority appeasement.
As a mark of protest, VHP would stage sit-ins across the country Monday, he said.
More brickbats were in store for the SP government as opposition parties accused it of being in a tacit understanding with the VHP and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the ritual.
Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma said there was a "match fixing" between the BJP-SP over the ritual and alleged that had the UP government wanted, Singhal would have been arrested in Delhi itself and that Togadia would not have made it to Ayodhya despite high security.
"Mulayam Singh Yadav has always hobnobbed with communal forces and so was the case today also," he alleged.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid however distanced the Congress from the crackdown on the Hindu saints and told reporters in Etah that his party had no role in the arrests.
"This is being entirely done by the state government and I feel that a government should respect the religious rights of individuals and countrymen," he said.
The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) also said that the SP had a tacit understanding with the VHP on its programme.
The BJP slammed the state government for arresting VHP leaders ahead of a religious event.
In Delhi, BJP spokesman Bizay Sonkar Shastri said the decision to ban the yatra and arrest VHP leaders had created needless tension in the state.
"The Samajwadi Party government ... wants to give out a message that it is a messiah of Muslims," Shastri told IANS.
Party vice president Uma Bharti demanded that the yatra should be allowed to proceed and said it was the right time to resolve the Ayodha dispute.
Meanwhile, the state home department said that in all 1,696 people were arrested across the state for breaking prohibitory orders and trying to move to Ayodhya.
Home Secretary Kamal Saxena told IANS that the clamp-down was underway and the numbers of people arrested could go up. He also said that security would remain on high alert for the next 15 days.
The Aug 25-Sep 13 "yatra" seeks to construct a Ram temple at the site of the razed Babri mosque in Ayodhya.