Ayodhya/Lucknow: Top VHP leaders Pravin Togadia and Ashok Singhal were among around 1,700 people arrested in a massive crackdown by the UP administration to foil the defiant saffron outfit`s controversial yatra on Sunday that was banned over fears of communal flare up.
The planned `Chaurasi Kosi Parikrama Yatra` was to have lasted till September 13 criss-crossing six districts of Uttar Pradesh was, however, symbolically launched by the saffron outfit in Ayodhya.
Togadia was arrested from Ayodhya while Singhal was taken into custody at Lucknow airport, as Ayodhya turned into a fortress wrapped in a hige security blanket.
As a cat-and-mouse game was played out in Ayodhya with VHP leaders sneaking out from hideouts to start their yatra defying a ban and trying to dodge the security personnel in hot pursuit, Togadia, who was hiding in Kale Ram temple on the banks of Saryu river, was arrested as he came out.
"In the state, 1,696 persons including Ashok Singhal and Praveen Togadia, have been arrested in the crackdown," IG, Law and Order, RK Vishwakarma, told reporters in Lucknow.
He said that all those arrested will be in judicial custody for the next 14 days and not be released as of now. Temporary jails have also been set up to house the arrested.
Singhal, who arrived from New Delhi with Swamy Ram Bhadracharya, was arrested when he insisted on visiting Ayodhya, officials said in Lucknow.
Soon after his arrest from Golaghat area in Ayodhya, Togadia said demonstrations would be staged all over the country tomorrow against the ban by the UP government on the `Chaurasi Kosi Parikrama Yatra`.
"This is not a political yatra but a religious one and ban or oppression resorted to by the government would not be tolerated at any cost," he told reporters.
Earlier setting the stage for a confrontation with the UP government, Nritya Gopal Das of Ram Janmbhoomi symbolically inaugurated the yatra by walking ten steps outside his temple before he was detained.
"We have inaugurated the yatra. But this yatra should not be politicised. It is carried out all 12 months (not time bound)," Gopaldas said.
Besides Togadia and Singhal, the administration today arrested over 500 people including former Union minister of State for Home Swami Chinmayanand, Nritya Gopal Das of Ram Janmbhoomi Trust, a former BJP MP Ram Vilas Vedanti and sitting MLA Ram Chandra Yadav.
Singhal, who was not allowed to come out from the airport, asked, "Why am I being arrested, what crime have I done...They should tell me. There is Mughal rule in Uttar Pradesh, where saints and seers are being stopped from worship". He asked the government to review the ban,
Samajwadi party spokesman and cabinet minister Rajendra Chowdhary claimed that VHP`s yatra was a "flop-show".