The Lucknow bench of Allahabad high court on Monday granted reprieve to arrested Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders as the ruling Samajwadi Party prosecutors chose to soft peddle on them.
The state government’s additional advocate general Raj Bahadur Singh Yadav and government advocate Madhulika Yadav remained almost silent spectators in the court that ordered immediate release of VHP supremo Ashok Singhal, his firebrand deputy Praveen Togadia, besides former Ayodhya MLA Lalloo Singh and senior leader Swami Bhadracharya.
The passive attitude of the government counsels and the poor preparation by the administration for ensuring custody of the VHP leaders was seen as an obvious "design" to facilitate their easy release. That has once again led the Akhilesh Yadav government critics to accuse him and his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Samajwadi Party chief, of "matchg-fixing" with VHP.
While Singhal was detained along with Bhadracharya shortly after their arrival at the Lucknow airport on Sunday morning, Togadia and Lalloo Singh were arrested after they attempted to defy the official ban on the much hyped ‘84-kosi parikrama’ , sponsored by the VHP to mobilise public support for the much-debated Ram temple at Ayodhya.
Of the total 2,454 arrested VHP workers, 958 have been released from different districts.
The bench comprising Justice Murtaza Hussain and Justice Devendra Upadhaya ruled that there was no justification in keeping the arrested persons in police custody beyond a period of 24 hours, as per the provisions of section 151 Cr PC under which they were detained.
Strangely, the state administration had not invoked any serious sections of the criminal law to ensure their longer custody.
Interestingly, the high court order came barely two hours after the administration decided to shift these VHP bigwigs from Lucknow and Faizabad to Etah district jail, where they were already being taken by car.
However, they had not reached Etah until the evening. “They would be released as per the high court directions, but before that certain formalities have to be completed which would be possible only after they reach Etah”, principal home secretary R M Srivastava told mediapersons around 7.45 pm on Monday.
Even as Ayodhya remained incident free and no attempt was made by VHP supporters to defy the official ban on the ‘parikrama’, the state administration plans to keep up its preventive security arrangements.
“The arrangements and deployment of police will continue until September 13, until when VHP had given the call for the banned parikrama through six districts surrounding Ayodhya”, said a top state police official.
Image: SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav with son UP CM Akhilesh Yadav