Lucknow: Was the Panch Kosi Yatra, a religious march that was to have been taken out by sadhus in six districts neighbouring the temple town of Ayodhya, and their ensuing standoff with the government an affair stagemanaged between the Samajwadi Party and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) with any eye on their respective vote banks?
Even as both sides took extreme positions last week, there are whispers and allegations that the otherwise traditional rite to be undertaken by a handful of Hindu seers was blown out of proportion by both sides to consolidate their respective vote banks.
"If you rewind the whole episode, it is obviously clear that the script of the Yatra and the `tamasha` that followed was a joint work of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and the VHP`s Ashok Singhal," asked Swamy Prasad Maurya, senior BSP leader and leader of opposition in the Vidhan Sabha, said.
He alleged that at their meeting the two leaders had agreed on a public spat, largely to send messages to their groups - Hindus and Muslims - that they were their greatest saviours.
Jagadguru Rambhadracharya, who was arrested along with Ashok Singhal, corroborated this as he said after being released on the Allahabad High Court`s orders that he was surprised by the volte-face of Mulayam Singh Yadav on the Panch Kosi Yatra.
"During the meeting with the SP chief and his chief minister son, we had shared our plans to take out a low-key yatra as pre-decided at the Kumbh Mela (earlier this year at Allahabad) and there seemed to be no problem at all," he said.
He went on to say that Mulayam Singh Yadav was okay with the idea of a low-key yatra taken out by sadhus in six districts neighbouring the temple town of Ayodhya and found his u-turn "puzzling".
"I do not wish to speculate what changed the mind and words of Mulayam Singh Yadav but I am surely surprised that a leader who came out to drop us and extended all courtesies suddenly asked his son to clamp down on the yatra and called us gundas (rowdies)," Rambhadracharya added.
Insiders, while endorsing the seer`s "insights" into the meeting between the two sides, however, said the scenario changed drastically after Urban Development Minister Mohammad Azam Khan issued a public statement criticising the SP supremo for meeting Singhal, an accused in the 1992 demolition of the Babri mosque.
"Things would have passed peacefully but for the public posturing of Khan, which made it difficult for Netaji (Mulayam Singh) to appear as being in a compromising situation of his pro-minority image," said a senior SP leader.
Khan, in a written statement had spoken of conflicting signals being sent to the Muslim community with regards to SP`s support to them and had expressed hope that "Mulayam Singh-ji will not compromise on his secular image".
A close aide of the chief minister conceded that Akhilesh Yadav was personally not keen to press the matter too much and wanted the VHP yatra to pass off peacefully and in a low key.
"Bhaiyya-ji (Akhilesh Yadav) was of the view that the yatra be ignored rather than being hyped but an administrative issue was given a political hue, forcing him to beat a hasty retreat and go as per the party leadership`s call on the matter," the aide told IANS.
But while the ruling party tried its best to project a tough stand taken against the potential "mischief-makers" to "ensure the security and safety of Muslims" in Uttar Pradesh, even Muslim clerics lashed out at the SP government for "unnecessarily making a non-issue an international propaganda."
"What would have happened if 200 saints would have taken out a procession, this was their right and the state should have ensured adequate security. In my opinion the government was ill-advised in clamping down on saints and arresting hundreds of them," said a Muslim cleric in Lucknow, not wishing to be named.
A group of clerics from Aligarh had earlier this week criticized the state government on the same lines.
In the end, while SP`s Muslim constituency appeared angry with the decision, the VHP managed to infuse a fresh lease of life in its moribund organization in the state, once a hotbed of religious politics.