Tamil Nadu BJP chief L Murugan was arrested along with several other senior party leaders and workers on Friday after he tried begin his much-publicised Vel Yatra—a month-long political rally visiting prominent Lord Muruga temples in the state—by defying the ban imposed by the state government in view of the pandemic.
Karnataka minister and BJP national general secretary C T Ravi and former party national general secretary H Raja were among the leaders present with Murugan at Tiruttani temple, in the northern part of Tamil Nadu, as he attempted to begin the proposed month-long rally.
They were kept in an auditorium in Tiruttani, and were released later in the evening.
Meanwhile, the state police headquarters sent out alerts to district police offices to maintain order in the wake of reports that BJP workers had received direction to organise flash protests across the state on Saturday.
Friday’s development comes a day after the state government told Madras High Court that it had decided to deny BJP permission for the Vel Yatra in view of the Covid-19 situation as well as possible communal tension—as feared in multiple complaints from opposition parties and two PILs filed in HC against the yatra.
On Friday, as it became clear that BJP leaders had decided to defy the ban, dozens of vehicles carrying nearly a hundred party workers joined Murugan on way to Tiruttani temple. The police stopped them on Chennai’s outskirts and allowed only five vehicles, including that of Murugan’s, to travel to Tiruttani, about 90 km west of Chennai.
Clad in a saffron shirt and green dhoti, with holy ash (vibhuti) smeared on his forehead, Murugan led the vehicle rally from Chennai, holding a Vel, an object of worship attached to the image of Lord Muruga.
After offering prayers at Tiruttani temple, Murugan, standing on an open vehicle customised as a rath, along with senior BJP leaders, including former Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan and H Raja, gave a speech, slamming opposition DMK for allegedly hurting the sentiments of Hindus.
Invoking Lord Muruga and the identity of Hindu believers, the state BJP chief said, “We Tamil Hindus respect other religions… but we cannot let it pass when they portray us in bad light. The DMK and its alliance partners talk against Hindu Gods and Tamil Gods. That is their (DMK’s) main job…The DMK and its partners have no business to step into my belief, the God I worship, my local deity…”
As the BJP leaders and workers proceeded to begin the yatra after Murugan’s speech, the police stepped in and detained them.
The Vel Yatra, modelled on the BJP’s rath yatra, was an attempt to celebrate Lord Muruga, considered to be a Dravidian or Tamil god. The deity has a space in nearly every Hindu household in the state, especially among backward communities. It was seen as an attempt by the BJP to woo Hindu voters in the state.
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