Delhi’s activist-turned-Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called off a dramatic 33-hour street protest Tuesday 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 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 Monday defiantly described himself as an “anarchist” and who earlier Tuesday 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, who took oath only three weeks ago, 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.
“He (Shinde) showed his maturity and political experience to solve the issue,” said Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala.
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.”
Earlier, police tried to persuade Kejriwal to shift his protest venue to Jantar Mantar but he refused to budge. He has been defying orders banning the assembly of five or more people since Monday morning.
On Tuesday, as soon as he got up, he lashed out against Shinde.
“Who is Shinde to tell me where to protest and where not to? I am the chief minister of Delhi and I have the right to decide, not Shinde. Instead I can decide where Shinde can stay.”
“If the central government does not agree to our demands by Jan 26, then we will fill Rajpath with lakhs of people.”
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 — wearing their trademark white caps and waving the tricolour — 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.