An adamant Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal remained firm on his demand for control over police for the second day, even as police and AAP volunteers, who have laid siege to a major arterial avenue in the centre of the capital, Tuesday clashed, leaving 10 people injured, including a policeman and a journalist. As policemen tried to persuade Kejriwal, in power for three weeks, to change his protest venue from near the Rail Bhavan to Jantar Mantar, the 45-year-old activist-turned-politician refused to budge. Kejriwal, who has been defying prohibitory orders and has been camping at the heart of the capital, close to parliament since Monday morning, spent the night huddled inside seven blankets under the stars and in blistering cold.
As soon as he got up in the morning, he spoke to reporters and declared that he was determined to continue his agitation against the central government for an “indefinite” period. “Who is (Home Minister Sushilkumar) Shinde to tell me where to protest and where not to? I am the chief minister of Delhi and I have the right to decide, not Shinde. Instead I can decide where Shinde can stay,” Kejriwal said. “I said 10 days, but it was a way of saying that the protest is indefinite. If the central government does not agree to our demands by Jan 26, then we will fill Rajpath (central boulevard in Delhi’s heart) with lakhs of people,” said the chief minister.
“Today in the morning, I myself broke the barricade and my ministers went to the toilets. Shinde has closed the toilets of all the buildings. We are people from India, not Pakistan,” he fumed. Kejriwal is demanding action against five policemen who did not heed to his Aam Aadmi Party ministers in what critics say were vigilante-style raids. The AAP denies the accusation. Kejriwal, who is a diabetic and has recurring cough and a sore throat, then had breakfast at the protest site brought to him by his Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer wife, Sunita,
Soon the crowd swelled to hundreds at the site, which is about 200 metres from India Gate, a capital’s landmark, and houses important government buildings, ministries and the Prime Minister’s Office. Tempers ran high as policemen and the protesters clashed when many volunteers tried to break the barricades. Some succeeded.
According to police, the AAP supporters, mostly wearing white caps and some waving Indian flags, pelted stones on them and also broke barricades. Police retaliated and pushed them back. Besides one policeman, a journalist from a Hindi newspaper and an unspecified number of AAP supporters were also injured. Speaking to reporters, Joint Commissioner of Police Mukesh Kumar Meena said: ““We cannot allow any obstacle keeping in mind Jan 26.” Police want the chief minister and his cabinet ministers to move from the spot due to the Republic Day parade in which Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is the chief guest. Directly confronting the federal government, Kejriwal defiantly declared Monday: “I am an anarchist.”
On Tuesday, he said: “What is the point of celebrating Republic Day if the people in the country are not happy with governance?” Kejriwal even asked “honest” policemen to take leave and join him in his street protest.
Kejriwal’s continued activism evoked sharp reactions from political parties, with BJP’s Arun Jaitley saying that “Kejriwal cannot continue as the CM” if he “considers himself an anarchist”.
“People of Delhi are paying the price for voting for AAP. They (AAP) have created instability and if this continues, then God save us,” he said.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari, whose Congress party is giving outside support to the Delhi government, was equally scathing.
“They made promises to the people and now when it comes to walking the talk they are being escapist and trying every gimmickry to wriggle out of the situation that they themselves have got into.”
The unprecedented protest forced Delhi Metro to suspend services at four major stations, causing inconvenience to thousands for the second day in a row. The Delhi government Tuesday said this had been done deliberatley to turn the people against the AAP.
The face-off between Delhi Police and the three-week-old Delhi government erupted after Delhi’s Law Minister Somnath Bharti accused some officers of not taking action against an alleged sex-and-drug racket involving some Ugandan nationals.
The issue escalated into a near diplomatic row after a group of Ugandans and Nigerians accused Bharti and AAP volunteers of misbehaviour. Kejriwal has defended Bharti.