Bombay, Maharashtra, India., Dec. 29 - The Maharashtra government on Tuesday barred radical Hindu VHP leader Pravin Togadia from a village where he was to open a function marking the conversion of 400 Christian tribals to Hinduism on Christmas eve.
Officials said the move was prompted by fears that the function, organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Nawapur village in Nandurbar district bordering Gujarat, could spark communal tension.
Togadia was scheduled to inaugurate the program on Wednesday.
Nawapur has a population of 70,000 Christians, most of them tribals.
Maharashtra government officials in Mumbai said orders had been issued banning the assembly of five or more people in Nawapur.
The Maharashtra State Minorities Commission had criticised the state government for allowing the VHP to go ahead with its programme. Tuesday's ban came after sustained campaigning by the commission.
The district administration has summoned additional forces and requisitioned the State Reserve Police Force to maintain law and order.
The VHP made its intentions clear several weeks ago when it publicised the "re-conversion programme" at Nawapur.
Police said pamphlets distributed in Nandurbar and elsewhere by the Hindu radical group had the potential of sparking communal trouble.
The pamphlets were aimed at inciting hatred against Christian missionaries, police officials said.
Despite stiff opposition from the Maharashtra government against VHP rally on Wednesday in Navapur village of Nandurbar district, VHP international general secretary Dr Pravin Togadia asserted that the VHP will go ahead with the "Hindu Virat Sammelan" of tribals.
He claimed that the Maharashtra government has banned the rally under pressure from national Congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi who is "avenging" her party’s defeat in Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, states largely dominated by tribals.
According to news sources, Dr Togadia said, "I fail to understand why there is so much hype when it is nothing but a tribals’ sammelan. Do not the tribals have even the right to hold such meetings?"
Allaying apprehensions that the sammelan will stir communal passion in wake of Christmas, he retorted, "Do Hindus question when Muslims go for Haj during Diwali?"
Lambasting the Congress government in Maharashtra, he remarked, "By hindering such meetings, Congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi is targeting tribals who did not vote for the party in the recent polls in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh resulting in Congress debacle. Mrs Gandhi daman kar rahi hai (she is committing atrocity on tribals)," he said.
VHP workers from South Gujarat region who would participate in the sammelan will also court arrest, if need be, Dr Togadia said.
Meanwhile, the Gujarat high court directed the state government on Monday to ensure law and order in Surat, Dangs and Dahod during Christmas following a petition filed in the high court. The petitioner apprehended communal tension due to the proposed programme of the VHP the ‘Hindu Virat Sammelan’ at Dolara village of Vyara taluka in Surat district on Tuesday.
A similar sammelan was scheduled at Dadhawada village in Surat district on December 28.
Justice C.K. Buch has issued notice to the state government and district collectors of Surat, Dahod and Dangs returnable on December 26. National executive member of the All India Christian Council Samson Christian filed the petition claiming that such sammelans might cause law and order problem in the region.
In the meanwhile, business establishments on Thursday remained closed in Nandurbur district of Maharashtra in response to a VHP sponsored bandh to protest Maharashtra government's denial of permission to a Conversion Sammelan to be addressed by Praveen Togadia.