Showdown imminent: pilgrims determined, administration imposes prohibitory orders

VHP not to be allowed to start yatra today
Sanjeev Pargal/

Pilgrims dance to the tune of bhajans as they intend to start Amarnath yatra from June 3 in Jammu on Saturday.	 -Excelsior/Rakesh
Pilgrims dance to the tune of bhajans as they intend to start Amarnath yatra from June 3 in Jammu on Saturday. -Excelsior/Rakesh

Avtar Bhat
JAMMU, June 2: Showdown between Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists and administration appeared imminent tomorrow morning with the workers of the VHP and its affiliated organisations, who have reached here from different parts of the country, showing no signs of reluctance despite a late night appeal by the civil and police administration that situation was not conducive for undertaking yatra to holy cave shrine of Shri Amarnath ji at this stage.
The District Magistrate Jammu tonight imposed prohibitory orders in the district under Section 144 CrPC preventing gathering of more than five persons to prevent VHP’s yatra to Amarnath ji shrine, which was scheduled to start at 8 am tomorrow from Parade Ground.
Hundreds of VHP activists from different States including neighbouring Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh etc had reached here by tonight and were camping at different places mostly the community halls and temples as a part of VHP’s programme to start pilgrimage to Baba Amarnath ji shrine in South Kashmir Himalayas from June 3 in Jammu and June 4 from Baltal and Pahalgam.
The police at Lakhanpur, the gateway to Jammu and Kashmir, stopped a number of buses and other vehicles from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. While most of the buses and cars were pushed back from Lakhanpur, some others managed to reach the temple City with people posing as pilgrims of Mata Vaishno Devi ji shrine.
Tonight, police detained 65 persons and lodged them in the District Police Lines (DPL) Kathua as they refused to return to Punjab. Administration, however, sent back the vehicle used by the people to cross Lakhanpur. All of them hailed from Punjab and were led by VHP leader Ashok Bhatia.
BJP national leader Mahamandleshwar Manmohan Dass from Madhya Pradesh managed to reach here by air this afternoon. VHP national leaders, Kailash Singh and Dr Surinder Jain besides others were already camping here to start the yatra tomorrow.
District Magistrate, Jammu, Sanjeev Verma tonight enforced Section 144 CrPC within territorial jurisdiction of Jammu district. An official handout said the step was taken to stop yatris from marching to Srinagar.
Asserting that weather was not conducive for yatra, the DM warned that action would be taken against the persons, who tried to take out the yatra before fixed date of June 25. He appealed to the social, religious and other organisations besides members of the civil society not to proceed to yatra before June 25.
Another handout said the administration has refuted claim of the VHP that some persons had visited the cave shrine of Shri Amarnath ji on April 18. It said the administration had offered chopper service to social organisations and other concerned for assessing actual situation enroute the holy cave but nobody came forward to accept the invitation.
Director General of Police (DGP) K Rajendera said the divisional civil and police administration in Jammu today made fresh appeal to VHP activists along with latest video and photographs of heavy snowfall on the tracks of Baltal and Chandanwari to persuade the VHP leadership to give up start of their proposed yatra from tomorrow.
The SASB had already announced start of the yatra from June 25 to August 2, curtailing 50 to 60 days long annual pilgrimage to just 39 days this year. The VHP wanted the yatra duration to stay at two months and has, therefore, decided to start yatra from June 3 and have first darshan on June 4 on the occasion of Jyestha Purnima.
Mr Rajendera said: “the administration was talking to the people (of the VHP) till late tonight explaining them the situation on twin tracks. Even today, a helicopter couldn’t fly what to say of landing at the shrine. It was raining heavily on the tracks. Authorities need seven complete days of clear sky to make tracks fit for pilgrims. In such a condition, even the people trained in mountain warfare were unable to reach to the shrine.
“After all they will understand. They were being persuaded. We are sure the people would realize the situation and give up their plan”.
Nevertheless, Mr Rajendera said, civil and police administration have made all necessary arrangements.
Sources said the SASB along with stake holders would perform puja of Shri Amarnath ji on Jyeshtha Purnima on June 4, as usual. If the weather permitted a chopper to land at Shri Amarnath ji shrine, the possibilities of which were remote, the puja would be performed in the shrine. Otherwise, it would be performed at Chandanwari, they added.
According to sources, the civil and police administration of Jammu including Divisional Commission, Pradeep Gupta, IGP Jammu, Dilbagh Singh, DIG Jammu-Kathua range, JP Singh and SSP Jammu Prabhat Singh held a high level review of the situation here this evening. A contingency plan was chalked out in the meeting if the VHP leaders and activists didn’t agree to give up their proposed yatra.
Sources said the VHP leadership has decided to go ahead with the yatra saying the SASB didn’t clear the tracks deliberately to delay start of the yatra for curtailing its duration under pressure.
According to sources, a direction had gone to police that no force should be used against the pilgrims and they should be persuaded to return after explaining them the clear picture. However, if they persisted to go ahead with yatra, they should be simply detained and pushed back. The force should be used in rare circumstances, they said.
Police authorities all along Jammu-Pathankote and Jammu-Srinagar National Highways have been alerted to prevent movement of the yatris towards Srinagar.
The VHP, however, claimed that one of their group has already reached Srinagar from Poonch using Mughal Road and would start march towards Baltal and Pahalgam tomorrow morning.
Sources said buses from Shimla in Himachal Pradesh, ruled by the BJP, made first attempt as early as 3 am today to enter Jammu from Lakhanpur but they were stopped and pushed back. Again in the afternoon, some buses and cars tried to enter Jammu but were sent back.
Intelligence agencies had reports that pilgrims from Punjab, another State ruled by the BJP in coalition with Akali Dal, would try to enter Jammu in the midnight. Strong contingents of police have barricaded Lakhanpur, which were screening each and every vehicle before allowing them in.
Sources, however, admitted that a number of vehicles managed to cross Lakhanpur with people posing as Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims. Authorities have vacated buildings near Toll Plaza, Lakhanpur for accommodating Jammu bound pilgrims, if they didn’t return. Mukherjee Chowk, Kathua has also been kept ready for the yatris besides the DPL, if required.
In Jammu also, the VHP activists including women and elderly citizens were camping at community halls, temples and other religious places.
The yatris, who have reached here from different parts of the country to leave for holy cave tomorrow to perform darshan of Icy Shiv Lingam on Jyeshtha Purnima falling on June 4, are in high spirits. “We have come here after traveling hundreds of kilometers and will not go back without performing darshan of Lord Shiva “, said Inder Singh an RSS activist from Shamli, UP who heads a group of 50 pilgrims including five ladies.
He said the Government should not restrict the yatra by curtailing its duration. The yatra should run for two months as per tradition starting from Jyestha Purnima and culminating on Shrawan Purnima, he added.
Singh who along with his team reached here this morning was camping in Geeta Bhawan. He said by curtailing the duration of yatra the Government wants to finish it day by day, which was not acceptable to the people of the country. “We will face lathis but have darshan at any cost in the holy cave on June 4” he added.
Same were the views of three ladies Shanti Devi, 65, Hero Bhai, 60 and Rami Bhai 70, all from Gwaliar in Madhya Pradesh
Vakil Saini, another Bajrang Dal activist from UP said “the Dal favoured a peaceful yatra and instead of taking confrontation, the Government and Shrine Board should concentrate on arrangements. The yatra period should not be curtailed as it will have serious repercussion and from the present move of the Board as well as State Government it appeared that they want to close this yatra once for all, which can’t be tolerated.
Saurav, a youth from Jhansi, who was all optimistic that yatra will go tomorrow said: “I hope that the authorities will not take confrontation with Shiv Bhakts”
Paramjit, who heads a group of 30 yatris from Jagadari, Haryana, said “we are committed to leave for holy cave tomorrow and have darshan on Jyeshta Purnima”. He criticized the Shrine Board for interfering in yatra date and duration saying nowhere in India the Governor heads the religious institute or interferes in religious matters except J&K as the same is the work of Dharmachariyas.
Meanwhile, VHP national spokesman Dr Surinder Jain today accused the Shrine Board of adopting a confrontationist approach. He said the Board has not bothered to discuss the issue with the VHP or other Hindu organizations involved in yatra arrangements.
Dr Jain while talking to reporters here today said 1200 pilgrims from different parts of the country have reached Jammu by this morning and the number will touch 10,000 by the evening. “The yatris will leave for holy cave at any cost from Parade tomorrow morning and no power on earth can stop their resolve.”
He alleged that travel agents and the management of the community halls are being harassed by the Government for giving shelter to pilgrims. This will generate a public resentment across the country and will have serious repercussion, he warned.
Mr Jain said VHP did not want any confrontation and the Government should solve the issue once for all by announcing Jyeshta Purnima as the day for start of the yatra.