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VHP yatra used to prop up BJP prospects,

AHMEDABAD: The VHP's reported differences with Prime Minister Vajpayee notwithstanding, the Parishad was determined not to leave any stone unturned to ensure that the Hindutva upsurge in Gujarat didn't translate into votes for the BJP.

Spurred by the Gaurav Yatra led by Narendra Modi, who is being described as a "Hindu hero" by the VHP, the Parishado launched the Hindu Pad Padshahi Yatra from the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar on November 15. The ruling BJP couldn't have asked for better timing as the yatra continued for 20 days, before culminating at Ahmedabad on December 6, the Babri Masjid demolition anniversary.

The VHP, in fact, was not trying to camouflage the political message it wanted to convey through its yatra. For those unaccustomed to the terminology, 'Hindu Pad Padshahi' means that Hindus should occupy positions of power.

The yatra, was launched from Gandhinagar, where nearly 40 people were killed in a terrorist attack. The yatra, which involved more than 1,500 sadhus associated with famous Hindu temples and ashrams from across the state, coincided with the intense political campaign that the state witnessed for the elections.

Organisers said the yatra winds its way through villages not covered by Modi's yatra "to awaken Hindus about their rights and warn them that they could be relegated to the status of second class citizens in the country despite constituting 80 per cent of the population."

Acharya Dharmendra Maharaj, VHP international general secretary Pravin Togadia and Sadhvi Ritambhara were among those spearheading the yatra.

Making no bones about the objective, VHP state general secretary Kaushik Mehta said: "It's high time the voters elect only those who can champion the cause of Hindus." However, he put a rider saying "We will support only pro-Hindu elements, be it the BJP or the Congress or even Samajwadi Party or Bahujan Samaj Party."

At the same time, he said, the VHP will "expose pseudo-secularists who are responsible for great injustice now meted out to Hindus who have become a weak and exploited lot as compared to Muslims who are chosen for the highest positions in the country."

"The main purpose of the yatra was to attain Hindu unity. The message wasl first spread in Gujarat and later in other states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh." As per the tentative programme chalked out by the VHP's Gujarat Margdarshak Mandal, the yatra passed through Mehsana, Banaskantha, Sabarkantha and Saurashtra. Prominent among those who participated were Purshottamcharan Shashtri of Zundal Ashram, Shivanand Maharaj of the Mujpur seat and Ram Maharaj of Karamsad Santram Ashram. They were joined by saints from the Swaminarayan sect.