‘Anarchist’ Delhi Chief Ends Protest as Tactics QuestionedKartikay Mehrotra and Andrew MacAskill
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal ended a sit-in to gain control over the Indian capital’s police force after officers were put on leave and amid questions it might hurt his party’s general election prospects.
A number of officers investigating cases of rape and sexual assault in New Delhi this month will be sent on paid leave, Kejriwal told supporters of his 14-month-old Aam Aadmi Party late yesterday when announcing the end of his nearly 33-hour protest. Kejriwal slept on the street on the night of Jan. 20 and described himself as an “anarchist” while speaking out against the police’s inability to curb violence against women.
Kejriwal’s methods risk alienating voters looking for an alternative to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress party, which has seen its popularity slump amid an economic slowdown and Asia’s highest inflation. Aam Aadmi has sapped support from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi, who is seeking to end Congress’ 10-year rule in elections due by May.
“It’s setting a very bad example,” said Santosh Hegde, who was a member of the team behind the anti-corruption movement in 2011 that led to the formation of Aam Aadmi, which means “common man” in Hindi. “It’s very unfortunate that a chief minister is behaving like this. If we all decided to ignore the laws, there would be chaos.”
After fighting through a cough during the protest, Kejriwal was taken to the hospital today when his condition worsened, Deepak Vajpayee, an Aam Aadmi spokesman, said in a phone interview. Doctors were conducting tests on Kejriwal, Vajpayee said.
Kejriwal, 45, started the protest after police refused to take action when a member of his administration conducted a late-night raid of apartments on Jan. 15 where residents had reported drug trafficking. He had been demanding India’s central government transfer control of the New Delhi police to the state government.
The raid followed the Jan. 14 gang rape of a 51-year-old Danish woman in a neighborhood popular with backpackers. Delhi Police have arrested two suspects who were part of a group that held the victim captive for five hours.
“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.
Police had cordoned off about 2.5 square kilometers (1 square mile), an area about two-thirds the size of New York City’s central park, in central New Delhi during the sit-in.
Kejriwal spent the night of Jan. 20 into 21 outside India’s railway ministry, which refused to let him use the building’s restroom until he complained on national television.
“I am an anarchist,” Kejriwal, whose party took power in Delhi last month after a state election, said yesterday before the end of the sit-in. “I am in control of this city. No one can dictate where we will protest.”
Late yesterday, in announcing the protest was ending, he said: “We will continue our efforts to make the Delhi police serve the people of Delhi and be answerable to the Delhi government,” Kejriwal said late yesterday to the cheers of supporters. “This is a big victory for all the people.”
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.
“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.”