For more than 48 hours now, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and half the Delhi Cabinet have worked out of a room meant for visitors at Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal’s office. From this small room, they clear government files, sleep on available furniture — a sofa and chairs — and take turns using a single washroom.
Few are allowed to meet them and a small group of staffers wait outside Raj Niwas — the Delhi Lt Governor’s office — ferrying messages, food and on Wednesday even mattresses for them to sleep on.
When Kejriwal and three cabinet colleagues walked into Raj Niwas Monday evening, AAP leaders and government officials knew a confrontation would ensue. But few had anticipated the CM would stage an indefinite sit-in.
Along with Deputy CM Manish Sisodia and ministers Gopal Rai and Satyendar Jain, Kejriwal had sought a meeting with Baijal around 5.30 pm on Monday evening with one demand: Clamp down on a four-month-long agitation by senior bureaucrats against the AAP government and clear the doorstep delivery of ration scheme.
Baijal and Kejriwal did meet briefly, but a heated argument had ensued and the CM allegedly “threatened” Baijal, according to a statement issued by the Lt Governor’s office. Soon after, Baijal left citing “prior engagements” and Kejriwal and his colleagues swiftly moved to settle down inside the small visitors’ room that adjoins Baijal’s office.
“Manish Sisodia did tell me that there was a possibility that Arvind had something in mind. But a very few people anticipated that it may mean half the Delhi Cabinet shutting themselves inside a room in the Raj Niwas for days on end,” said an aide to Kejriwal.
Sources also said none of the AAP leaders have bathed for three days. “They have not been able to take a bath in the last three days. However, we have sent toothbrushes inside. The facilities allow them to freshen up once in a while,” a source said. On Tuesday, Jain started an indefinite hunger strike, which Sisodia joined the next day.
The ministers spend much of their time on social media. “All of them are early risers. And its natural, they are not getting adequate sleep. Rai has severe back issues, so it’s all the more difficult for him. They chat late into the night, firm up strategies and write letters,” another source said.
According to sources: “The visitors’ room is right next to the L-G’s office where he attends to files and meets people. It is separated by a large conference room where they had met on Monday. The situation is such that they can call out to each other and talk. But the four ministers have not come out of the room even once till now,” sources said.
The sprawling Raj Niwas, designed by professor Ram Sharma of the School of Planning and Architecture like a “modern haveli”, also serves as the residence of the L-G.
On Wednesday, rebel BJP leader Yashwant Sinha and former ambassador KC Singh tried meeting Kejriwal but were turned away by Raj Niwas security.
Food is delivered from the Chief Minister’s residence at Flagstaff Road, which is barely 2 km away. “Jain and Sisodia are on a hunger strike. And the CM and Rai eat frugally so it is not a problem. And how can one forget their days of activism? They had their baptism by fire “ said an AAP leader.
A diabetic, Kejriwal is also being given insulin from time to time, sources said.
But it is not just the ministers alone at Raj Niwas. To look after their emergent needs, at least five AAP volunteers, employed as personal staff, have remained stationed outside Raj Niwas and say they cannot leave fearing not being allowed in by police. Since Monday, all the roads to Raj Niwas have been barricaded.
“We have a car but cannot afford to switch on the air conditioning as fuel is running out and we cannot refuel. We are arranging food with the cooperation of the security. There’s a small washroom which we have been allowed to use. We hand over the food and other necessities for the ministers to the L-G house staff,” said one of the volunteers.