The tension in the air at Kottaivasal on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border was palpable. Policemen in khakhi had formed a periphery around the hundreds of saffron-clad supporters of the Rama Rajya Rath Yatra. Over 100 police personnel from both states had assembled to protect the yatra that is crossing the border through Tirunelveli district, on its way to Rameswaram. Over 200 supporters of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) gathered on the streets, revving their bikes in support of the yatra.
The yatra at the border crossing was led by Shree Sakthi Santhananda, the head of the Shree Rama Ashram in Trivandrum. The yatra began in Ayodhya on February 13 and is organised by Swami Krishnananda Saraswathi, the National President of the Sree Rama Dasa Mission Universal Society, and Sree Sakthi Santha Ananda Maharishi, the National General Secretary of the society.
The yatra which entered Puliyarai in Tirunelveli is facing severe opposition from Dravidian groups which have declared it an extension of the ‘saffron terror’ in the state. Late on Monday evening, several political parties slammed the Hindu outfits for creating communal tensions in the state.
‘Our aim is to establish Rama Rajya’
The saffron-clad godman Shree Sakthi Santhananda sat in the rath (chariot) at the foot of the deity. As the chariot made its way into Tamil Nadu, he emerged from the small shrine in the chariot and blessed the supporters and launched into a speech.
“The aim of this rath yatra is to re-establish Rama Rajya (rule of Rama),” he declared to thunderous applause. He continued, “This is the 22nd year of the yatra. When this yatra takes place next year, Rama Rajya would be established in India. While Delhi is the political capital of India, Ayodhya should be made the spiritual capital of the country.”
Launching further into a hyper-nationalist speech on a Hindu nation, the godman said, “The public holiday in India should be Thursday. In all the Christian countries, the public holiday is on Sunday. For Muslim countries, it is Friday. Why is it Sunday in India? It should be Thursday. When the Constitution of India was brought out, there were the images of Lord Rama, Sita, Hanuman and Lakshman. But the Congress, in the name of secularism, eliminated their pictures.”
Egged on by the crowds shouting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and ‘Rama Ki Jai’, the godman continued, “There should be a World Hindu Day once a year so that Indians spread across the globe can remember who was Rama. Most of the Indians living outside the country don’t know any of the Indian languages. If there is a common day for them, they can dedicate it to think about the great heritage and culture of our country.”
Speaking to TNM, Deputy Superintendent of Police B Krishnakumar from Punalur, who was in charge of the yatra’s security till the Kerala border, said, “There were no incidents of violence till the Kerala border. It was peaceful. About 100 policemen from various police stations nearby have come for duty.”
Opposition in Tamil Nadu
On the Tamil Nadu side of the border, however, security was beefed up owing to the severe opposition the Hindu outfits have faced.
Less than 24 hours ago, the district magistrate and district collector slapped Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in Tirunelveli district, prohibiting the ‘assembly of 5 or more persons with the view to protesting/objecting/opposing/
The order by the District Magistrate and District Collector of Tirunelveli reads, “…the Superintendent of Police, Tirunelveli has also reported that to maintain public peace and tranquillity, it is necessary to promulgate orders under section 144 Cr.Pc., for the entire Tirunelveli District, and that even a minor incident in the Rathayathra route will snowball into a major communal clash with serious impact on the law and order situation in the district. It is reliably learnt that some miscreants are planning to utilise the opportunity to instigate violence and spread communal tension; which will not be limited to this district only. A serious and grave possibility of public order disturbance, communal clash, danger to public peace and tranquillity exists.”
At 6 am on Tuesday, a few protestors were detained at Tenkasi and Virudunagar. VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan, MMK leader Jawahirullah, and 10 others were detained by the police before their vehicles could enter Senkottai.
Speaking to TNM, Mohammed, President of the Social Democratic Party of India, says, “Our protesters have been arriving from 6 in the morning from all over Tamil Nadu but they were all either prevented from entering or arrested by the police. Because of this, we have not been able to the protest in an organised manner from one place.”
Speaking to TNM, Panakudi Sub Inspector George Premlal denied the arrests. The police on the ground, too, are tight-lipped about the arrests.
However, police sources confirmed to the media that several have been detained for attempting to protest at Senkottai. Around 8.30 am, a group of Naam Thamizhar Katchi members arrived in a minivan at the Senkottai junction. Even as they tried to disembark from their van at the junction, the police sent them back the way they came.
The police personnel were also seen stopping people on bikes, asking them not to travel with a pillion rider.
The air was tense at the Senkottai junction in Tirunelveli. Even as passers-by continued on with their daily life, the junction is filled with an army of police personnel on high alert, watching every movement. The 25 km route from Tenkasi to Puliyarai, Senkottai where the yatra is expected to enter Tamil Nadu is also lined with police personnel. The policemen here are seem determined to prevent any outbreak of violence on account of the yatra.
The prohibitory orders came into force last evening at 6 pm and are enforced until 6 am on March 23.
The order prohibits the ‘assembly of 5 or more persons with the view to protesting/objecting/opposing/
The order, issued in the presence of district collector Sandeep Nanduri, also notes that prior notice was not given to the parties concerned on account of ‘emergent circumstances.’
Edited by Manasa Rao