Arvind Kejriwal is back to doing what he’s best at – demonstrating, protesting, rallying, picketing and getting into a face-off with law enforcement authorities. In the past, one may have snarled at this conduct, but accepted it owing to his agitation based ideology, but ‘good intentions’. However, things are now different. Mr. Kejriwal is the Chief Minister of Delhi and some of his cohorts of demonstrators are part of his cabinet of ministers. And while Mr. Kejriwal successfully transformed his social movement into the Aam Aadmi Party (“AAP”), his style of functioning doesn’t seem to have adapted to the position he occupies.
At present, and in complete disregard for the prohibitory orders restricting the gathering of more than five people, Mr. Kejriwal, along with hundreds of party workers, is sitting on ‘Dharna’ – a method for obtaining compliance with a demand – close to Rajpath. What is his demand: our Chief Minister wants the suspension of a few police officers, who for once were following due process and the rule of law and who refused to act on the dictates of the law minister to conduct a raid post sunset without a warrant or substantial independent evidence. Don’t be confused – this protest didn’t start with the objective of bringing Delhi Police under the Delhi Government. It’s only when AAP leaders perhaps realized the ridiculousness of their demand (suspension of a few cops), that they turned their angry mob of supporters to agitate for Delhi Police reforms.
Having read the English four page summary of AAP’s manifesto, one notes their objective of wanting to achieve “full statehood to Delhi, so that MCD, DDA and Delhi Police are directly controlled by the Delhi government.” But did it all have to be accomplished in 3 weeks? Almost every political party in Delhi has the same objective, what prevented our Chief Minister (“CM”) from making an all party representation to the Home Ministry to fulfill this collective demand? Every Dilliwallah questions the high-handedness of the Delhi Police and wants reform. But could it not have waited post January 26th?
Let’s be clear – neither the timing nor the venue of this agitation is a coincidence. It’s a deliberate attempt of Mr. Kejriwal to get into a spat with the police and central government to portray to AAP supporters and electorate that the chaos is not their doing, but on account of someone else i.e. the central government. It’s therefore even more important to highlight that when Mr. Kejriwal first announced his intention to protest, the Delhi Police requested him to do so at Jantar Mantar. But our astute CM refused to go back to surroundings familiar to him and very strategically choose to be as close to the venue of the Republic Day celebrations.
Anyone who heard Mr. Kejriwal’s interview, given to a leading TV channel, would note Mr. Kejriwal’s sense of conviction about his demand and him not seeing any fault in the actions of his minister. As always, Mr. Kejriwal is unable to see beyond his self-righteousness and self bestowed call to save the nation and is urging others to join his protests which is in complete disrespect of the Magistrate’s prohibitory orders. He has gone to the extent of calling AAP supporters from across the country to fill Rajpath, with the sole view to disrupt Republic Day celebrations and even declared that there is no reason for the country to celebrate Republic Day. Do you agree with this?
An imminent law and order problem is likely to emerge and with the national capital on high-alert, as it normally is in the week leading up to January 26th, Mr. Kejriwal’s belligerent actions have compelled the central government to call the Central Reserve Police Force, the Rapid Action Force and the Sashastra Seema Bal to the venue of his protests. Of course this jeopardizes the overall security of our Capital. All this drama because a few duty-bound cops were not suspended prior to the conclusion of an inquiry.
Unfortunately for Mr. Kejriwal, it appears that this time his strategy may have slightly back-fired. The inconvenience his protest has caused to the Aam Aadmi over the past 24 hours has made even his most die-hard supporters sit back and wonder if their decision to elect him was a wise one. A friend recently commented that Mr. Kejriwal has his “attention, then admiration followed by applause”, but today he perceives him “simply as an angry, anti-establishment guy with only a hammer in his tool box” and sees him as a threat to India. Another friend commented that they (AAP) were meant to be “our beacon of light but have turned out to be a nightmare.”
Of course, we need to give Mr. Kejriwal more time. Of course it will take a lot to shake-off remnants of the old political style of functioning. It goes without saying that desperate times call for desperate measures. One can’t question that Mr. Kejriwal had the guts to take on the establishment and challenge status-quo. Hats-off to him for inducing the much needed churn in Indian politics, using unconventional methods and attempting to clean-up our rickety system. And yes, we all need to be patient.
It’s for exactly these reasons and with a heart of hope that one didn’t question AAP retracting its election promise and joining hands with Congress to form government. One noted the CM’s good intentions and didn’t question his faulty water policy and the subsidy of crores he doled out within a few days of assuming office. But his water policy said nothing about how to improve the water distribution system despite the AAP manifesto clearly stating in its manifesto that “50 lakh people do not get piped water in their homes and AAP is committed to ensuring that “all” households in Delhi get water in their homes.” One was quiet even when the CM crippled a better future for the Aam Aadmi by scrapping FDI in multi-brand retail in Delhi since we expected that he had better economic plans for our city.
But one can no longer stay silent when our CM, who is expected to maintain law and order in the national capital is himself the person creating lawlessness. It is unacceptable, no matter what the situation, when a constitutional functionary shows complete disregard towards the rule of law and democratic principles that he is elected to defend. And it is objectionable when the head of state of the national capital is dampening the spirit of Republic Day celebrations and is hell-bent on embarrassing the nation at a time when the worlds eyes are set on us in the week leading up-to our Republic Day. Do you support our CM’s open call to his supporters to cause disruption?
As Yogendra Yadav, member national executive of AAP said on national television, in politics it’s necessary to exercise restraint. Mr. Kejriwal and his cabinet of ministers have unfortunately done exactly the opposite. At every stage they have precipitated matters into an AAP versus everyone else situation. And in doing so, they have exposed their inexperience in governance and inability to break out of their ‘rebellion mode.’ Sometimes one wonders if AAP would have done more service to the nation by occupying the opposition benches. In the bargain of occupying the seat of Government and not being able to deliver, they have shattered the hopes of millions of Indians who for once started believing that our democracy actually works and all was not lost. One would have preferred to have hope in one’s heart than see it burnt out as just a facade of unworkable ideas that are easily compromised in an ego tussle over the suspension of a few law enforcement officers.
Satvik Varma is an advocate based in New Delhi & an Aspen India Leadership Fellow.