A city on tenterhooks, Ayodhya has been turned into a fortress to counter any “untoward incidents by frenzied karsevaks” as they gather for a dharm sabha — a congregation of seers, sadhus and Ram bhakts pushing for the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site.
Ayodhya, a temple town in Uttar Pradesh, is on edge as Shiv Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad raise pitch for the construction of the Ram temple.
The two groups have planned separate events in the temple town. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is holding a mega religious gathering to mount preassure on the government. The organisation will hold a "dharma sansad" to discuss the way forward for the construction of the Ram temple.
The VHP has been mobilising support for its big event through bike rallies and processions across UP in the last few days.
UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, from whose Gorakhpur bastion 50,000 karsevaks are said to be at the venue, has been campaigning non-stop across MP, but will stay put in Lucknow all of Sunday, his office said, and is also reviewing Ayodhya “preparations”.
On Saturday, Shiv Sainiks were seen visiting Ramjanmabhoomi karyashala where stones carved by artisans are stored. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray met seers at Laxman Qila and later performed puja and took part in Saryu aarti.
The Shiv Sena has elaborate arrangements for its chief Uddhav Thackeray, who is on a two-day visit to the state. Mr Thackeray will offer prayers at the Ram janmabhoomi, participate in the aarti by the Sarayu river and will speak to saints and people there. He is carrying a pot full of soil from the Shivneri fort in Pune, which will be handed over to the mahant or priest at the janmabhoomi.
Uddhav dared BJP to bring a law in Parliament to build the Ram mandir. “If the decision on demonetisation could be taken without waiting for any court order, why can’t a decision be taken for construction of the mandir?” he said, without mentioning PM Narendra Modi.
Ahead of VHP's dharm sabha in the town, for which over two lakh people are pouring in, movement around the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi complex is restricted and multiple layers of security are in place across the temple town. ADG (law and order) Anand Kumar said it was “to ensure that the separate programmes of Shiv Sena and VHP are held peacefully and the Supreme Court’s orders of maintaining status quo are not violated”.
The imposition of Section 144 notwithstanding, organiser Vishwa Hindu Parishad is upbeat. The outfit’s media in charge Ambuj Ojha reiterated, “The moment is here — the temple must be built where Ram Lalla is currently installed.”
Bholendra Singh, VHP organisational secretary of Awadh region, said, “Crowds will be much more than expected. This will be our last dharm sabha in Ayodhya, now only construction of Ram temple will start.”
Fear is palpable in Muslim-dominated localities where locals have placed their faith in the security bandobast. All these areas have been cordoned off by the CRPF since early Saturday and will remain under police and CRPF’s vigil till the conclusion of VHP’s event, said a senior police officer. “A crowd of so many VHP and Shiv Sena activists is a bit daunting,” said Hafiz Sayyed Ikhlaq, a resident of Kaziana locality.
Faizabad administration has deployed special forces for two Muslims litigants in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, Iqbal Ansari and Haji Mahboob, and local cleric Haji Sayyad Ekhlaq.
Sources said VHP and Bajrang Dal activists held closed-door meetings with seers and BJP, too, pressed its functionaries for the mega event.
An additional DGP, one deputy inspector general, three senior superintendents of police, 10 additional SPs, 21 deputy SPs, 160 inspectors, 700 constables, 42 companies of PAC, five companies of RAF, anti-terror commandos and drones have been deployed, said a UP police spokesperson. Security forces also conducted a march on the national highways around Ayodhya.
DIG Faizabad range Omkar Singh told TOI that status quo as per the SC’s order will be maintained “at any cost at the disputed site”. “We will not allow anyone to violate the apex court’s order.”
As VHP and RSS claim over two lakh workers are expected for the dharm sabha, Faizabad commissioner Manoj Mishra said, “We’ve made all arrangements to ensure communal harmony in Ayodhya. We’ve assured the minority community of security and requested them not to panic,” he said.