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Delhi chief calls off protest against cops

Publication Date : 22-01-2014


Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has called off a two-day protest in the Indian capital shortly after clashes broke out with police.

The violence has put a focus on the radical politics of the man shaking up a national election.

Kejriwal launched the sit-in to protest against alleged inaction against crime by the city's police force, which is under central government control.

"I am of the opinion and perhaps the public is also of the opinion that in any given area, at least 90 per cent of the crime happens in connivance with the police," he told supporters after emerging from a blanket in the morning.

Yesterday, the 45-year-old politician conducted Cabinet meetings in his small blue car and signed official papers even as he continued the protest on a cold and rainy day. He is demanding that the federal home ministry suspend at least four policemen for not doing enough to prevent the gang rape of a Danish tourist recently and not acting against a prostitution racket in east Delhi.

The home ministry has refused, saying that action would be taken only after an ongoing probe is completed.

Kejriwal told a crowd that he was calling off the protest because two of the policeman would be put on leave. "Let's end the protest here today," he said.

Delhi is a unique case in India, where the federal home ministry has control over the city's police instead of the state government.

"Women are happy. They are saying a least some men are taking action," said Kejriwal, who looked tired and wan but continued to meet supporters. "Who is saying I am spreading anarchy and chaos? It is the media. If I am sitting at a peaceful dharna (protest) I am an anarchist?"

While Indian politics has seen its share of unruly scenes and drama, it is unprecedented for the chief minister to turn protester.

The street protests are a throwback to the successful 2011 anti-corruption movement launched by crusader Anna Hazare and masterminded by Kejriwal that attracted scores of middle-class Indians. While that earlier movement fizzled out, Kejriwal used the opportunity to launch the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in November 2012 in Delhi.

Within a year, the social activist turned politician swept the Delhi polls, winning 28 of the 70 seats in the legislative assembly in December. He formed the government with support from the Congress party and was feted for taking many unconventional steps.

But the protest launched on Monday has not proved as popular with commuters inconvenienced by the closure of four metro stations near protest sites and AAP supporters uncomfortable with the return to the streets.

"No doubt this government is sensitive (to women's safety) unlike the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and the Congress. But this is not the way," said retired bureaucrat Neeru Nanda, 66, a supporter of the party. "They should silently work and not sit in protest like this."

Low-cost airline pioneer G.R. Gopinath, a new AAP member, said: "It is my view that Kejriwal's intentions are noble and good. However, the way he is going about doing things is not right."

But scores of AAP supporters at the protest site queued up to meet Kejriwal, many to get "darshan" or his blessings.

Gaurav, a volunteer who refused to give his last name as he was there on a working day without permission from his office, felt a protest was the only way to bring changes in the Delhi police.

"If some policemen are suspended, it will send a message to the rest of the police force. It will be a start (in cleaning up the system)," he said.

But Kejriwal faced some flak from a large section of the Indian media.

The Hindustan Times newspaper said: "If Kejriwal and his ministers continue like this, many will wonder whether they will ever be able to make the transition from activists to elected representatives."

The Indian Express added that "the AAP has continued to behave as though it is a popular reality TV show, sidestepping the processes and institutions of representative government, trying to change laws from the streets".

Political analysts felt that this could be a strategy for the national election expected within four months.

"The Aam Aadmi Party sees this as an occasion to try and also set the agenda for the coming election given the fact that a recent poll indicated the presence of the AAP is largely limited to Delhi and the states of Haryana and Punjab. Their aim is to consolidate what they have and expand," said Professor Sandeep Shastri, pro vice-chancellor of Jain University in Bangalore. "It would be politically naive to write them off at this stage. This is the typical challenge of settling down."


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