Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s unusual dharna in the heart of Delhi in the peak of its harsh winter is over. But it’s unlikely that the cold backlash against him and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will dissipate soon. The whiplashes keep coming. The party hasn’t had a reprieve of late, whether it’s over Kejriwal’s open defiance of law in the very shadow of Parliament, over his ‘lawless’ law minister Somnath Bharti’s racist, vigilante act in south Delhi’s Khirki Extension or over its leader Kumar Vishwas’s crudities.
Never in recent times has the country been treated to the dramatic image of a CM spending a night out in the open in protest. Neither have we seen someone charged with upholding the rulebook flout it the way Kejriwal did in his ‘aam aadmi’ style. Many who had voted for AAP, hoping it would set the house in order, are worried it might well bring the entire house down. Kejriwal and his cohorts are being accused of anarchy, a charge the CM only seemed to endorse when he said—perhaps sarcastically, or perhaps flirting with radicalism—“Yes, I’m an anarchist.”
One of the principal causes for the protest—a demand to bring Delhi Police, now under the Union home minister, under the Delhi government—is something many support. The provocation was alleged police failure to prevent the gangrape of a Danish woman and inaction in two cases in which two Delhi ministers had intervened. But the means adopted—flagrant disregard for the law by a CM and massive disruption at the venue of the Republic Day parade days before the event—left many disillusioned. More so because the CM backed away on securing just a minor concession in a face-saver deal. Against his party’s demand to have five cops dismissed and for bringing Delhi Police under the state government, AAP settled for having two cops sent on paid leave and an inquiry against five expedited.
Another forthcoming flashpoint is over AAP’s promise to pass a Jan Lokpal bill in the Delhi assembly, one that will give sweeping powers to the Lokayukta. The Centre has said the state government will have to seek its clearance. AAP is adamant and even wants the bill passed at Ramlila grounds, site of the original stir that started it all. Says Shazia Ilmi, an AAP core committee member, “I think people are going to see a lot of action as opposed to the status quoist attitude of other parties. Our methods may not make sense to some and we’ve been labelled anarchists from day one. All we’re seeking is accountability.”
Singled out? African residents of Khirki Extension, where Bharti went on the rampage. (Photograph by Jitender Gupta)
But the brazen disregard for the established order—Kejriwal even called on cops to abandon their responsibilities and join his protest—has unnerved many who voted for AAP. BJD leader Baijayant Panda, who supports many of AAP’s goals—weeding out criminals from politics, for instance—says some of the methods it has adopted can prove counterproductive. “It’s important to reform and build institutions, to bring about a structure of law rather than only go about targeting individuals,” he says.
Much of the vitriol has been aimed at Bharti—and AAP and Kejriwal’s inexcusable defence of him. The minister, who reportedly used to run an infotech firm that was ranked as a top spammer, led a mob in a raid in Khirki Extension on hearsay that the area was inhabited by African drug peddlers and sex traffickers. He brought out the worst stereotypes associated with Africans, saying they were “not like us”. What’s worse, there are accusations that those in the mob forced some Ugandan women to give urine samples in public. “I’m deeply disturbed at the xenophobia on display,” says Sarabhai, speaking as a women’s activist rather than an AAP member. “Many laws were broken by the law minister. His racist comments have deeply disturbed me and I was shocked by how the women were treated.”
The trouble with vigilante action of the sort the minister led is that most often innocents suffer. Tresor Bokondi, a Congolese management student living in Khirki Extension, knows it well. Days after he moved into a one-bedroom flat, neighbours thumped on his door. “They said I must clear out as the police had issued eviction notices against Africans, something they had no proof of,” he says. “I had to pacify them, pointing out how I had never done anything to disrespect or inconvenience them.” Richie Lontulungu, Delhi-based president of the Congolese Community of India, says that, even if some Africans were involved in illegal activities, it was for the police, not the minister, to intervene. “Also, by focusing on Africans, others involved in the trade, for instance Indians who may have recruited these Africans, are never revealed,” he says.
Of the “anarchist” tag pinned on AAP, Dipankar Gupta, director of the Centre of Political Affairs & Critical Theory at Shiv Nadar University, Noida, says, it’s unfair—especially when it comes from those responsible for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots or the Babri Masjid demolition. “I think the sight of chief minister Kejriwal sitting out in the cold has won him support from those who have no desks to work on or those who have to bear the brunt of the law,” he says. “But the vigilantism of some of their members does bother me. I hope the sober voices in the group speak up.”
If Kejriwal is seen as a politician still under an activism-induced hangover, he is also being praised for the unusual step of taking to the streets to get himself heard. Isn’t that what the aam aadmi does, unlike the khaas aadmi, who knows how to work the system? Here lies the dilemma at the heart of the politics being crafted by AAP. A few months from now, in the heat of India’s summer and electoral politics, we should find an answer.
By Debarshi Dasgupta with inputs from Anuradha Raman
It’s no wonder that admirers of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal have turned into his harshest critics (Is His Story Playing Out As Farce? Feb 3). This is in reaction to his unconventional ways and that of his ministers, which will now be judged by the law. I tend to agree with his critics, but on second thought I realise that Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was created to challenge our entrenched political system, which has turned “of the people, by the people, for the people” into “of politicians, by politicians, for politicians”. Changing this required a revolution; Kejriwal and his party are that revolution. His dharna while holding the CM’s office was unusual, but so is the arrangement under which Delhi police is under the Union home ministry. He may not have achieved what he set out to, but at least he has sent out a warning to the Delhi police to mend its ways. As for his critics, they can call him anarchist, mad, item girl...whatever.
M.C. Joshi, Lucknow
Kejriwal behaves as if he’s still the street-smart activist he started out as. What sort of governance will he deliver as chief minister if he himself goes on dharna? It would be prudent for the Congress to pull the rug from under Kejriwal before the self-confessed anarchist takes an unpleasant, dangerous turn.
K.P. Rajan, Mumbai
Looking back at the past political scenario in India and comparing it with the present, I realise that a major political churning is under way. It has triggered ups and downs and these will continue for a while. But ultimately, things will stabilise. The much educated, globally aware and assertive citizens of India have realised they have been taken for a ride all this while, it’s just a matter of time before change happens.
Prakash Watwani, Mumbai
AAP’s critics—mostly journalists and armchair intellectuals—seem to be multiplying like amoebae. If Kejriwal does not follow a standard line, he’s an anarchist. But for the common man, Kejriwal and AAP hold out hope, for he addresses the problems they have with an extortionist state. My advice: Don’t worry about AAP; it will spring a surprise or two on the system. After all, no one predicted they would win 28 seats.
Dinesh Kumar, Chandigarh
Kejriwal has not managed the change from agitator to administrator. It’s like an actor used to villain roles getting the role of a hero but unable to get rid of the mannerisms he used in former roles.
Pramod Srivastava, Delhi
According to Kropotkin, anarchy is absence of government and law. But here we have someone who is a chief minister by virtue of the Constitution himself declaring that he is an anarchist!
J.N. Bhartiya, Hyderabad
By declaring that a dharna is the only way to make the Centre work, Kejriwal has pressed the self-destruct button.
K.R. Srinivasan, Secunderabad
Bravo, Arvind Kejriwal! You and your party have infused a new confidence in Delhiites—that anyone can mock the law and get away with it too.
Rajneesh Batra, Delhi
If you clean up Delhi, make broad, well-lit footpaths, bring about better connectivity by fast-tracking the metro, road and flyover projects, ensure high quality education in government schools and so on, you can have any party in governance and it will make no difference. Work hard for ten years or more to achieve all that—then keep up the good work—and we’ll have no need for the drama of the sort Kejriwal resorted to.
Kejriwal’s oversmartness will prove his undoing.
Pradip Singh, Stafford, UK
In just a few weeks, some megalomaniacs with a rather thin record of public service but the audacity to equate their protests with the freedom struggle have revealed their true colours.
K.S. Jayatheertha, Bangalore
Where was the need for Pranab Mukherjee to comment on Arvind Kejriwal’s dharna? Despite being the country’s first citizen, Pranabda remains a Congressman first.
K.G. Acharya, Mumbai
What an utterly biased & one sided reading of Arvind's protest. For the last 3 weeks , the panicked status quo & it's paid media hirelings have run a consistent disinformation campaign against AAP - it must be supremely frustrating for them to see that after all this concerted media effort, achievement is zero -- poll after poll taken by the same channels in the fond hope of tracking some dip in AAP's popularity is throwing up results showing the AAP governemnt having higher ratings than even during the Delhi elections!! Clear proof , if any was needed , that AAP's success has been inspite of media, not because of it.
The critics of AAP have multiplied like amoeba. However, most of these critics are journalists, armchair intellectuals and those who want the Chief Minister to "govern" from his office. If he is not following their line, he is "anarchist." But for the common man the AAP is at last talking about them. He is addressing their problems and trying to fight an extortionist state. My advice: don't worry about AAP. They may well spring a surprise or two - after all, no one predicted them to win 28 seats in Delhi. So keep the predictions about their downfall also at arm's length.
Fringe Elements of Right/Religeous Groups, Fundamentalists, Maoists and AAP - disparate and desperate anarchist formations!!
The role-reversal of Arvind Kejriwal from an agitator to an administrator doesn't seem to have delivered results. His ongoing actions are seemingly akin to a recognised on-screen villain who succeeds in bagging a hero's role but yet to restrain his in-built anti-establishment itches developed over the years.
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