AAP ki “Anarchy”

(Pic Courtesy: Hindu Business Line)

(Pic Courtesy: Hindu Business Line)

On the 28th of December 2013, one favourite ousted another to become Delhi’s Chief Minister. Riding high on the anti-incumbency wave, favourite number one (Arvind Kejriwal) vowed to set Delhi right with clean governance. The new common man government began with a series of crowd-pleasing moves like 24/7 austerity, for example. Kejriwal and his cabinet rejected the lal batti culture (red beacon vehicles for VIPs) associated with politicians and ministers. They also said no to elaborate security details, choosing to ride public transport like the men and women who gave them a near mandate. In the first 24 hours of being in office, this government had already proved it was different from that of favourite number two (Sheila Dikshit): one practiced symbolism and the other tokenism.  In my opinion, Sheila Dikshit was/is a remarkable leader but a prisoner of her paradigm. She is despite and because of the Congress and Delhi. Delhi is a city state, the capital of a 1.23 billion plus-strong nation as well as a Union Territory that is home to more than 1.68 crore people. What complicates the schizophrenia is the fact there are far too many agencies, too many turf wars about jurisdiction, too many masters. Development authority DDA and civic body MCD are always at loggerheads. Police is a state subject but, in Delhi’s case, the police come under the Centre. I’ve always believed that Sheila Dikshit and, for that matter, any other person in the CM’s shoes is limited by this unenviable order. Arvind Kejriwal too would suffer this limitation, only he has refused to. This is what the agitation in Delhi is about. What makes it unprecedented is the fact that it is the first time a serving chief minister is protesting on the streets against the police. Not just a day-long hunger strike. No, the full haul.

(Pic Courtesy: Reuters)

(Pic Courtesy: Reuters)

Last night Kejriwal with his trademark muffler wrapped up around his head camped out on the pavements of Delhi. I don’t know how he slept in the blinding glare of so many television OB vans and cameras trained on him. (I’m glad no inebriated Bollywood actor or scion of a business family was behind the wheels of a speeding luxury car in the area at the time.) Kejriwal has said he will not budge until the control of Delhi Police is handed from the Union Home Ministry to the Delhi government. (This comes after an incident in which two policemen were accused of dereliction of duty and the Kejriwal govt cannot suspend the officers in question without controlling the police.)

This spirit of protest has been lingering in Delhi for over two years. Outrage over the Dec 16 gang-rape incident added more fuel. And now it seems Delhi is like a room in which someone has left a gas stove on. Even the smallest lit match can trigger a massive blaze. There is nothing wrong with a blaze as long as it remains non-violent. This growing blaze is making the Congress-led union government uneasy. In a bid to quash the agitation, 4 metro stations (closest to the Prime Minister’s residence) have been shut and police has been deployed in full strength by the boss of the home ministry, a veteran Congress leader Sushil Kumar Shinde. To those who criticise the AAP-led agitation, one must point out that it is this (shutting down of metro stations) that is inconveniencing the public, not the agitation per se.

(Pic Courtesy: Economic Times)

(Pic Courtesy: Economic Times)

I like how Arvind Kejriwal has reclaimed the word “anarchy”, redefining it like everything else. In AAP’s lexicon, anarchy is street-style protesting that gives vent to legitimate public outrage which makes the powers-that-be uncomfortable. So, as per Kejriwal’s scheme of things, there are three kinds of anarchy: Congress anarchy, BJP anarchy and AAP anarchy. Suddenly anarchy has become cool. Young scribes are running to grab their dictionaries only to find unsatisfactory answers. Reporting on AAP and the Delhi govt will require re-examining the words used to describe the churning going on in Delhi and parts of India in a crucial election year.

As I reach this final paragraph of my blog entry, the ticker of a TV channel which is on in my room but running on mute is flashing “Breaking News: Centre gives in to AAP”. The Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi called Kejriwal and the latter called off the agitation at Rail Bhavan. The Metro Stations have re-opened and order has been restored.

While AAP claims victory and the BJP cries foul (making yet another allegation of a Cong-AAP conspiracy), it is too early for back-patting.

–       AAP’s latest agitation has brought the debate on the need for police reform back in focus. The need of the hour is to make police independent and accountable and not under this government or that.

–       Many in the political establishment, police and television studios were worried about what this now-called-off agitation in the heart of Delhi would do to Republic Day parade security and arrangements. The event is already a logistical nightmare, without a protesting chief minister staging a dharna. I was shocked to hear so many lamenting the disruption of a parade which, if nothing else, harks back to an imperial era. I wish more people would question the need for such a parade in the first place. India is one among just 36 countries that have a parade tradition. An unpopular, dated idea, wouldn’t you say?

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