It began on Monday as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s protest to demand the suspension of four police officers, but soon descended into chaos.
The Delhi secretariat moved to outside Rail Bhawan, the call for the suspension of the policemen metamorphosed into a demand for control over Delhi Police, and then, even full statehood.
Within a few hours of starting the protest, Kejriwal had proclaimed himself an anarchist and even invited police personnel to join him and demonstrate against the Union home ministry.
By the evening, AAP supporters from across Delhi and even neighbouring Haryana and Uttar Pradesh were knocking on barricades that denied them entry into the Rail Bhawan traffic island, where Kejriwal and his cabinet sat until late Monday night.
Kejriwal called for the protest against the MHA, which has refused to suspend four police officers who rejected Law Minister Somnath Bharti’s demands to search and arrest foreigners last week, citing the lack of a warrant.
True to his word, Kejriwal, his cabinet and AAP legislators set off for North Block, the office of Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde. They were, however, stopped by the police from going up Raisina Hill due to prohibitory orders, and were stalled at Rail Bhawan, which became the venue for their sit-in.
Flanked by ministers Manish Sisodia, Rakhi Birla and Bharti, Kejriwal invited policemen themselves to join the dharna.
“I want to tell all of you that this is your fight as well.
Apply for leave today, and then take off your vardi and join us here tomorrow. Paanch-cheh din chutti le lena. Agar yeh police commissioner zyaada tang karega, toh main dekh loonga (Take leave for 5-6 days. If this police commissioner bothers you too much, I will deal with him). I am prepared to stay here for 10 days until they listen to our demands,” Kejriwal said.
Their demands, however, seemed unclear as they switched from one to the other.
Kejriwal spoke at length on the suspension of the four police officers in connection with three separate incidents of alleged crime in the city.
“Last week, a Danish woman was gangraped. There is one rape after another in this city. The police keeps saying that we are investigating. There needs to be some accountability. Someone has to answer for these crimes. Tell me, should the SHO of the area be suspended or not?
“A girl was burnt alive and Rakhi Birla asked for justice. The SHO did nothing. Should the SHO be suspended or not? There is a sex-and-drugs racket in Malviya Nagar. We demanded that they be caught and the ACP’s and the SHO refused to check. There is no sex racket that happens without the police. People from the Uganda High Commission came to us and told us that we did the right thing. Should all of them be transferred or not?” Kejriwal asked.
However, Kejriwal soon seemed be to criticising Delhi Police as a whole.
“These BJP, Congress and media people should tell me what vigilantism is. I don’t know what it is. If people call me an anarchist, then I am an anarchist. Where can ministers go? Police-walon ne dadagiri macha rakhi hai. They take money from auto drivers, those that sell their wares on the streets. When our mothers and sisters exit their homes, they have no security,” he said.
“We are protesting for the security of our women. If nothing happens, we will teach the Congress such a lesson in the Lok Sabha elections, that they will always remember it,” he said later in the evening.
Less than 200 metres away, at a press conference at Constitution Club, AAP leader Yogendra Yadav changed the issue of the protest – control of the Delhi Police.
“The Delhi CM holding a protest is an unusual event. He has been forced go on a strike on some basic issues. The unfolding of events in the last few days show that the main issue concerns what the aam janta of Delhi feels about the Delhi police – how useless and corrupt the Delhi police is.
“The victims of this attitude of the Delhi Police are the women of Delhi. The AAP had said that it will fight to bring the Delhi Police under the Delhi government. When all three main political parties have been demanding one thing, it is strange that the Delhi CM has to hold demonstrations,” Yadav said.
“The AAP manifesto stated that we would struggle for full statehood for Delhi; bring Delhi Police under Delhi government,” Yadav tweeted in the afternoon.
On Sunday night, Kejriwal had asked supporters to stay away from the protest venue. But he changed his mind after being stopped at Rail Bhawan.
“I asked people to stay away because of Republic Day celebrations and the prohibitions because of it. But last night, I could not sleep at all. My soul was not at peace. Republic Day isn’t just celebrated by parading tableaux. I want everybody to come and join. I am prepared to be here for the next ten days, and if nothing else happens, then it will go on for longer,” Kejriwal said.
As the Delhi Police barricaded the roundabout where Kejriwal and a group of around 500 AAP members sat, much larger groups formed outside the barriers, with frequent skirmishes with the police.
Party leaders Sanjay Singh and Ashutosh were involved in a shouting match with police officials who wouldn’t let them in. Even senior police officers caught the ire of the supporters, with one fight breaking out because volunteers were disallowed from setting up a loudspeaker.
AAP’s Model Town MLA Akhileshpati Tripathi fainted, with supporters claiming that he was attacked.
Meanwhile, the opposition BJP and the Delhi Congress, which supports the AAP government from the outside, slammed the Kejriwal-led government and its tactics.
While the BJP accused Kejriwal of treason for asking Delhi Police to shun their duties and join the protest, the Congress blamed him and the Delhi government for spreading lawlessness in the city.
Leader of the opposition Harsh Vardhan also requested the Lieutenant Governor to take cognizance of the the “anarchic” methods of governance by the newly-appointed government.
Vardhan also criticised the AAP government for not “having a human approach” towards women from other countries.
“The Delhi government has reminded us of British rule and the Rowlatt Act being enacted without making any declaration. Under this act, the British used to make their own rules and break them at will and no one could appeal against such acts,” said Delhi Congress chief Arvinder Singh Lovely.
Meanwhile, members of the Delhi Pradesh Mahila Congress and other women’s organisations held a massive demonstration in front of the police headquarters demanding the arrest of Law Minister Somnath Bharti.