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CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

 

FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DESK
SEEMA MUSTAFA | 27 JANUARY, 2014

The drama is over, and after 32 hours in freezing weather Delhi's aam aadmi have gone home, leaving a raging debate behind. The media was almost unanimous in condemning them as 'anarchists' along with a section of the upper middle class but clearly everyone did not share this view. Hence the debate, and the controversy.

Did the Aam Admi Party (AAP) know what it was doing? Was there a strategy behind the apparent madness? Or was it just to protect its own, like Minister Somnath Bharti who was in the eye of a self created storm? The anarchist theory supporters insisted on the last, maintaining that the Bharti kind of 'vigilantism' was dangerous and highly reprehensible, and should be mowed down at the onset. AAP leaders like Yogendra Yadav agreed that different words could have been used by the Minister, but were clear that the issue was not of morality or ethics of even racism but of sheer criminalisation of a particular locality in Delhi. According to Bharti and AAP leaders, he was not targeting the Africans per se but responding to charges of drug and women trafficking by foreigners living in the locality. That they happened to be Africans, was coincidental.

Bharti maintained that he was responding to complaints by the residents of the area, and that he had not asked the police to violate the law, but to follow the law and take action against those openly indulging in drug abuse and trafficking. The police said it had no evidence. The media supported the police. The residents of the area insisted that there was sufficient evidence and the police had been ignoring their complaints. The long and short of it was that in the face of media criticism Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal led his team of legislators and workers for a dharna in Lutyens Delhi.

The dharna was not just on Bharti's demand for the suspension of the police men who had refused to take action; but also for the suspension of the police personnel under whose watch the Danish tourist had been so brutally raped at a stone's throw from the busy shopping centre of Connaught Place; and for similar action against the police who failed to protect a young married woman from her in-laws leading her to be set on fire. This case was being pursued by another AAP minister who actually brought it to light in the first place.

The dharna was not without strategy, and not anarchist at all. For one it was to seek control of the Delhi police that currently is under the Union Home Ministry and the central government. Earlier chief minister Sheila Dixit had a similar complaint but was unable to persuade her own party to transfer the control of Delhi Police to her. Kejriwal and his men were aware that before the dharna, most residents of Delhi did not know the difference, and were inclined to blame the Delhi government for law and order issues instead of the central government. The dharna has ensured that every Delhi citizen knows this fact now, with the onus for law and order of the national capital being firmly placed in the UPA government's court. The result is that the Congress will now face the flak for rape or other criminal incidents in Delhi, and not the Aam Admi government in the state. This, politically speaking, is a major achievement for AAP.

The second plus for the Delhi government and Kejriwal is the support they have got all across Delhi from those who do not have drawing rooms. The poor and the lower middle class in particular saw the dharna as their own, and this level of support for AAP has increased dramatically.

The third positive for AAP is the impact this will have on the Lok Sabha elections. Protests against the police always strike a sympathetic chord amongst the poorer communities who are at the receiving end in all states, and the AAP leadership calibrated this into its dharna. No one in the party, least of Kejriwal expected the Congress to relinquish power. That was never the intention. Hence there was no bowing down, only a strategic retreat after some of the above had been established.

AAP is now looking very seriously at the Lok Sabha elections. Delhi is just a step towards that, and the government here, in its calculations, is expendable as and when the Congress withdraws support. Kejriwal's utterances are genuine, he really does not care whether the Delhi government is in power or not, and he will be quite happy for the Congress to withdraw support. This is because he knows that he is the happy situation of the skillful gambler where the opponent---in this case the Congress--- will lose no matter what it does.

Kejriwal has changed the conventional style of political functioning. He has not really changed the thinking, except ensuring that the same thoughts are taken to the people through a series of actions instead of emanating from the secretariat offices. He holds the power thus, as a politician using the people and not the bureaucracy and the police as his weapon, becomes totally unpredictable and hence difficult to handle. The media, that is clearly no longer a profession of irreverence and out of the box thinking, is most askance at this style of functioning. More so, as it itself has become a status quoist institution with the inability to question and think.