Govt bows; Kejriwal ends protest

January 22, 2014 - 4:43:47 am

A supporter of Aam Aadmi Party removes a poster with a portrait of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal from the site of a protest in New Delhi yesterday.

New Delhi: Activist-turned-Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called off a dramatic 33-hour street protest yesterday evening after Lt Governor Najeeb Jung intervened to defuse a major crisis for the central government ahead of Republic Day, acting partially on the AAP’s demand for action against five policemen.

“It is people’s victory,” Kejriwal declared and said he and his cabinet ministers were ending their protest begun on Monday morning near Rail Bhavan, close to parliament, after Jung said that two of the police officers had been asked to go on leave.

“People of Delhi have won the battle,” added the visibly weak 45-year-old chief minister, speaking from atop a fountain at the foot of a Govind Ballabh Pant statue, his face wrapped with a woollen muffler.

The announcement triggered cries of “Inquilab Zindabad!” and “Vande Mataram!” as well as “Kejriwal ki Jai!” from hundreds of Aam Aadmi Party activists who had clashed with security personnel more than once during the day leaving around 30 people injured — the scenes captured live on national television.

Kejriwal, who on Monday defiantly described himself as an “anarchist” and who earlier yesterday threatened to extend his protest indefinitely, also said that police had arrested members of a family accused of burning their daughter-in-law — another of the AAP’s demands.

The Kejriwal-versus-police face-off ended five days before the annual Republic Day parade — in which Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be the chief guest — passes through the Rajpath boulevard near the protest site.

The Lt. Governor made no mention of Kejriwal’s larger demand that Delhi Police, which reports to the central home ministry, should come under the Delhi government. Kejriwal told the media and an army of supporters: “It is for the first time in the history of India that a chief minister had to go on ‘dharna’.” He said his government would step up its efforts to take control of the 85,000-strong Delhi Police.

Within minutes of the announcement, AAP volunteers began packing up a large number of quilts and mattresses that Kejriwal, his ministers and AAP supporters used to spend Monday night in the blistering cold. Kejriwal later drove off in his car to his house in Ghaziabad adjoining Delhi.

The Congress-led central government decision to give in to some of the AAP’s demands — after earlier taking a hardline stand — followed a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee.

The Congress credited Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde — who had come under vicious attack from Kejriwal — for the dramatic ending of the AAP protest, which caused misery to thousands of commuters after Delhi Metro closed four key stations in the city centre.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party was livid. “It is a theatre of the absurd enacted by the AAP and the Congress,” said party leader Arun Jaitley. “Thank God, it is over. India doesn’t deserve it, Delhi doesn’t deserve it.”

Kejriwal demanded action against five policemen who did not heed his ministers in what critics say were vigilante-style action. The AAP denies the accusations.

The crowds swelled during the day, raising tensions. By evening, AAP supporters had clashed with police after breaking barricades. Some stoned the police personnel who retaliated. 

The trouble erupted after Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti accused some police officers of not acting against an alleged sex-and-drug racket involving some Ugandan nationals. The issue led to a near diplomatic row. IANS