Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal slept on the streets last night in a bid to overhaul the city’s police force, stepping up a fight with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government ahead of elections.
The protest of several hundred people prompted Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde to close roads and shut four metro stations in central Delhi, snarling traffic in India’s capital. Kejriwal, an activist before he formed the Aam Aadmi political party 14 months ago, vowed to protest indefinitely until he gains control of the Delhi Police from the central government.
“I am an anarchist,” Kejriwal, whose party took power in Delhi last month after a strong showing in a state election, told reporters today. “I am in control of this city. No one can dictate where we will protest.”
The protest risks alienating voters looking for an alternative to Singh’s Congress party, which has seen its popularity slump amid an economic slowdown and Asia’s highest inflation. Kejriwal’s party has sapped support from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi, who is seeking to end Congress’s 10-year rule in elections due by May.
“They have an identity crisis,” said Neera Chandhoke, a former professor of politics at Delhi University who backed Aam Aadmi in the elections. “They are not able to make a transition from an agitation into a governance mode.”
Kejriwal started the protest after police refused to take action when a member of his administration conducted a Jan. 15 late-night raid of apartments where residents had reported drug trafficking. He is demanding the central government relinquish control of the police force.
“We deal with every complaint by the law,” Delhi Police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said in a phone interview, when asked why officers didn’t make arrests. He refused to elaborate. The Delhi High Court will hear a complaint against Kejriwal on Jan. 24 seeking to declare his sit-in illegal, according to a filing by lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma.
About 4,000 security personnel have been deployed to keep order during the chief minister’s protest, R.P.N. Singh, India’s junior home minister, said on his Twitter feed. About 200 officers were present at the site today, according to Dinesh Sharma, assistant commissioner of Delhi Police.
“We would rather be spending our time trying to keep law and order in the city as we only have a small police force,” Sharma said from the protest site. “If anything happens then we will be held responsible.”
Police have cordoned off about 2.5 square kilometers (1 square mile), an area about two-thirds the size of New York City’s central park. About 200 protesters milled about alongside Kejriwal today.
Kejriwal said the closures of central roads and metro stations is a tactic to prevent the city’s 17 million people from reaching the site. He spent the night outside India’s railway ministry, which refused to let him use the building’s restroom until he complained on national television.
Meeting Kejriwal’s demand to have the police under control of the state government instead of the federal administration would require an amendment to India’s constitution, according to M.R. Madhavan, president and co-founder of New Delhi-based PRS Legislative Research, which tracks Indian legislation. Lawmakers have yet to propose a bill with such changes, he said.
Aam Aadmi won 28 of Delhi’s 70 assembly seats in an election last month, compared with 31 for the BJP and eight for Congress. It formed the state government with the backing of Congress lawmakers after the BJP declined to govern without a majority.