Ayodhya turns into fortress ahead of banned VHP yatra

The temple town of Ayodhya was turned into a virtual fortress on Friday, with the central paramilitary forces staging a flag march ahead of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's 84 Kosi Yatra planned for Sunday.

The yatra has been banned by the Uttar Pradesh government on the basis of a Supreme Court order.

The unprecedented security blanket thrown on Faizabad district included prohibitory orders.

All of Ayodhya has been declared a 'Blue Zone' - earlier limited to a two-km radius around the disputed site – an area which has now been scaled up to 'Red Zone' for security purposes.

Additional director general of police (law and order) Arun Kumar said 17 VHP activists had been arrested in Faizabad. "We are keeping a close watch on senior leaders associated with the Yatra and orders have been issued to arrest them in case they are spotted in Faizabad," he said.

The authorities have identified 70 VHP leaders to restrict their movement as their presence could "endanger" law and order.

Ten companies of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) and 12 of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) have been deployed in addition to the security set-up that has been in place in Faizabad since 1992.

Reports from Allahabad said a team of district officials arrived at VHP chief patron Ashok Singhal's residence on Friday morning to take him into preventive custody. "They returned after he informed them about his scheduled departure for Delhi later in the day to attend a ceremony related to the recent death of his brother," said Pawan Srivastava, a close aide of Singhal.

While chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is keeping a close watch on the security arrangements, the home department has sought additional central forces for Sunday. The chief minister held a meeting of all the sitting MLAs from the six districts through which the proposed yatra is to pass through.

During the two-hour meeting, the CM asked the MLAs to ensure that the common man did not face problems in their respective constituencies because of the security arrangements. Faizabad district magistrate Vipin Kumar Dwivedi briefed chief secretary Jawed Usmani about the security arrangements.

Political heat over the Yatra escalated on Friday as the saffron brigade described the ban as an example of 'jihadi mentality' while the state government said it would not allow "another Gujarat" to happen.