Terror shadow on Hyderabad’s Ganesh procession (Lead)September 14th, 2008 - 7:49 pm ICT by IANS
Hyderabad, Sep 14 (IANS) A low turnout marked the annual Ganesh immersion procession in the Andhra Pradesh capital Sunday as Saturday’s serial blasts in New Delhi appeared to have cast their shadow on the festivities. The procession was a low-key affair in parts of the city as the number of devotees came down in view of the security apprehensions and threats from terrorists. Most people preferred to remain indoors though the police had made unprecedented security arrangements.
The usual crowds were missing in the communally sensitive old city. There were huge gaps in the main procession. The heavy vehicles carrying the Ganesh idols were seen moving smoothly at the historic Charminar. Every year, the vehicles move at snail’s pace with the streets teeming with crowds.
However, the number of idols has not come down this year and those accompanying them were undeterred by any terror threats. Holding saffron flags and raising slogans of “Ganesh Maharaj Ki Jai”, they danced to the drum beats.
Thousands of idols were taken out in the procession amid a high alert and unprecedented security.
Over 30,000 security personnel including those drawn from paramilitary forces kept a tight vigil along the 25-km procession route in view of the threats from terrorists.
The security was further beefed up after the blasts in the national capital. During checking, the police picked up four people moving around under suspicious circumstances and were questioning them.
Home Minister K. Jana Reddy, Minority Welfare Minister Mohammed Ali Shabbir and several other state ministers welcomed Ganesh idols at Charminar, where the Bhagyanagar Ganesh Utsav Samiti had erected a special platform. The home minister underlined the need for maintaining peace and communal harmony in view of the threats from terrorists.
All the speakers, including those from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Bajrang Dal, condemned the Delhi blasts.
Bajrang Dal national secretary Prakash Sharma called for tackling terrorism with an iron hand. He alleged that the forces which once divided the country were again trying to disintegrate it through terrorism. “Those giving shelter to terrorists and groups like SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) should be dealt with strongly,” he said.
Shabbir had to face a protest from Bajrang Dal activists when he got down from the platform. “Go back, ISI agent”, they shouted as he was walking towards his car. They alleged that the minister was preventing the police from acting against terrorists.
A Telugu newspaper recently published a report that Shabbir stopped police raids on some madrassas where some suspected terrorists were believed to be hiding.
The main procession carrying huge idols began from Balapur on the city outskirts after the traditional auction of laddu. Mohan Reddy, a Hyderabad resident, bought 21 kg of the sweet for a record price of Rs.507,000.
The procession was set to cross communally sensitive old city and Charminar before reaching the Hussain Sagar Lake in the heart of the city for immersion.
Dozens of processions from other parts of Hyderabad and Secunderabad were to join it en route. Over 13,000 idols of varying sizes will be immersed in the lake, which divides the twin cities.
Officials deployed 35 cranes at the lake for immersion, which will continue till the early hours of Monday.
The mammoth procession brings the city to a grinding halt. Bhagyanagar Ganesh Utsav Samiti, the organisers of the annual procession, claim it to be the second biggest procession after Mumbai.
As the festival this year is coinciding with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and intelligence agencies have warned of threats from terrorists, the city police have made unprecedented security arrangements. Hyderabad also suffered three blasts last year, claiming over 50 lives.
Police Commissioner B. Prasad Rao himself was monitoring the procession from a helicopter hovering over the procession route.