VHP blockade hits road, rail traffic across India


New Delhi : Major traffic jams were seen all around the country Wednesday as activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) blocked roads and disrupted train services to protest the Sethusamudram canal project in Tamil Nadu that they say will destroy a ‘bridge’ held sacred in Hindu mythology.

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In the national capital, VHP activists started their protest at around 8 a.m., blocking bridges across the Yamuna river, at traffic signals, some arterial roads in west and central Delhi and at least 20 flyovers, leading to traffic snarls in the rush hour.

The blockade ended at around 11.30 a.m. and vehicular movement gradually limped back to normal. No violence was reported in the city. Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat said around 1,000 people, including former MPs and legislators, had been detained.

But traffic jams that lasted over three hours had motorists frazzled as around 20 areas including Shakti Nagar, Dwarka, Lajpat Nagar and Nizamuddin were affected.

The situation was grim at National Highway 8, which connects the city to Gurgaon in Haryana, and two bridges that connect east Delhi to other parts of the city across the Yamuna.

“It took me at least three hours to reach my Connaught Place office. It usually takes me just 45 minutes. There was utter chaos and the roads were jam packed,” said Neeraj Thakur, a resident of Preet Vihar in east Delhi.

The situation was equally bad in other major cities.

Many busy intersections in India’s financial capital Mumbai, including S.V. Road, Saki Naka and Thurbe Naka, were completely blocked. Around 10 people were taken into custody in the city, police said.

Around 300 members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and VHP blocked the Chennai-Mysore Shatabdi Express train in Bangalore for an hour, activists said. Office-goers had a tough time as traffic was held up in six busy roads, including Tumkur Road and Mysore Road.

Chennai’s arterial Anna Salai Road was blocked at around noon apart from other intersections. About 300 protestors were arrested in the Tamil Nadu capital and a few hundreds more in other cities and towns.

In Haryana, National Highway 1 was blocked at Karnal, leading to a massive traffic jam. Activists also disrupted train services at Ambala.

Police resorted to a mild cane charge at Chandigarh and adjoining Panchkula town to disperse VHP activists. In Punjab’s industrial town of Phagwara, the Amritsar-Delhi highway was blocked and so also the rail track that connects to Delhi. Train services were disrupted in Jalandhar as well.

In Patna, a woman was forced to deliver a baby on the road due to a traffic jam. She and her husband were on their way to a hospital in an auto-rickshaw.

Nearly 200 VHP activists led by BJP legislator Nitin Navin were detained for disrupting train services at Patna’s main railway station.

The strike paralysed traffic to and from the Taj Mahal city of Agra for several hours. The Agra-Jaipur highway was blocked near Fatehpur Sikri and vehicles from Delhi were also held up at Mathura.

The Bajrang Dal, another right-wing group, used a truck to block a railway track at Agra, resulting in many trains being delayed.

Orissa too was badly hit as VHP activists stopped several trains in Jatani, Sambalpur and Bhubaneswar. While hundreds of activists led by MP Jual Oram staged protests at the steel city of Rourkela, state BJP president Suresh Pujari led protests at Bhubaneswar, Omprakash Mohanty, a BJP leader, told IANS.

The blockade affected Jaipur also with schools and offices recording thin attendance. Minor scuffles were reported from some areas as activists tried to puncture tyres of vehicles.

The VHP claims that the canal project, that will cut shipping time in the southern tip of India, would damage the Adam’s Bridge or Ram Sethu, which many Hindus claim was built by the monkey brigade to enable Ram to reach then Lanka (now Sri Lanka) to rescue his wife Sita from the clutches of demon king Ravana.

Hindutva parties claim that US space agency NASA had the bridge in the Indian Ocean carbon dated as being 1.7 million years old.

However, Surface Transport Minister T.R. Baalu has pointed out that the NASA website had mentioned about “partially submerged giant tombolos forming Adam’s Bridge – connecting Sri Lanka to India … such tombolos usually indicate a constant sediment source and a strong unidirectional or bi-directional long shore current”.

Tombolo is a bar of sand connecting an island with another island of the mainland.

Baalu said, “None of the studies and investigations conducted so far has produced any tangible scientific evidence of any man-made structure in the area.”