Men, Matters & Memories
M L Kotru
Until reason prevailed forcing him to step back from the path he seemed to have chosen, Delhi’s own (AAPna) Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s search to give a veneer of political legitimacy to his movement had looked fraught from the word ‘go’. His chosen path: to confirm his hold on power by seeking control of Delhi Police, now under Home Ministry, thanks to his double-speak, brought life in the City-State to a situation which would have had severe Constitutional repercussions. And all this on the eve of the Republic Day, a day which had witnessed a rehearsal of the R-Day parade and only a day away from the final dress rehearsal for the big show on January 26.
It was alarming to see Kejriwal changing the form of his protest (from a sit-in by him and his five cabinet colleagues at North Block to broadcasting a call to everyone in Delhi and adjoining areas to converge on the impressive Rail Bhawan, a stone’s throw away from Parliament House and just a few meters away from Rajpath, the venue of the R-Day parade) had a few thousand people, their numbers looking ominously huge, thanks to the visual media horde, literally dancing to Kejriwal’s tune.
One or two of his Ministers did manage to get into the rowdy crowd in a show of solidarity which only goaded partymen to engage in a physical “tu tu mein mein” with the police. Live TV coverage brought the bizarre scenes enacted outside Rail Bhawan into most living rooms in Delhi and elsewhere.
I saw a concerned citizen glaring into TV camera asking “what does one tell the Kashmir or Manipur Chief Ministers if they call their people out on the streets to stage similar dharnas in support of their demand for withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from their State; or, if Omar Abdullah, taking a cue from one of the AAP leaders, demanded a referendum in Kashmir to decide whether the AFSPA should stay or go; or, if he were to ask for an opinion poll to decide whether his State should continue to be a part of India?
An extreme view you would say but remembering what could have happened at the Rajpath-Rail Bhawan intersection those two nights, had wiser counsel not prevailed, gives me nightmares. Mr. Kejriwal and his men had acted in a highly irresponsible manner. And, mind you, there is nothing new in his demand to bring Delhi police under the control of the Delhi City government. And it was hardly the kind of issue for which the Chief Minister should have plunged the capital into anarchy.
Worse still was his public pronouncement that “excitable” night that “People say I am an Anarchist; yes, I am an anarchist”. The tiny man with the moustache, shivering in the biting cold of that night, was appropriately applauded by his Ministers and the ‘believers’ on hand. Those standing further away joined the cheer leaders, probably without understanding what an “anarchist” meant.
To me it was a reminder to go back to what I had said in this space months ago. I had then spoken of the rise of a similarly mustached German corporal who subverted a powerful nation and bided his time, organizing his Nazi movement, courting arrests et al and finally toppling Hindenberg who, in his desperation, had asked him to join the government. It had not taken Adolf Hitler more than that to hoist himself as the Fuehrer, “adored and loved” by “trusting” Germans who finally saw him bring death not only to himself by committing suicide in his bunker but also seeing his prosperous country razed to the ground, just what he had done to whole of Europe and the Soviet Union.
India, I do believe, is too diverse and vast a country for any dictator to takeover but those who have had a taste of Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s Emergency will understand that how a nation can be pulverized and a constitutional democracy forced into submission, for some time at least.
Kejriwal’s drama began when his Ministers embarked on law enforcement in a fit of shelf-righteous against purported prostitution and drug peddling. In Khirki in South Delhi’s Malaviya Nagar, for instance, a group of Ugandan women were targeted, vilified and forced to give their urine samples with groups of vigilantes hovering nearby.
Forgotten was the fact that the law does not permit arbitrary search and seizure, especially involving women, in the dead of the night. Mr. Kejriwal’s lawless Law Minister, Mr. Somnath Bharti, reprimanded by the Delhi High Court before his reincarnation as an AAP Minister for unprofessional conduct as a defence lawyer, demonstrated astonishing ignorance of the fact that the law on immoral trafficking aims to rescue and protect victims of trafficking, and not to capture them.
Mr. Bharti who had managed to have TV crews in attendance during his nocturnal raid was seen ordering the Station House Officer of Police to break in to the house where some Ugandans stayed. The cop showed remarkable presence of mind and told the Minister that he couldn’t enter the house without a search warrant and, in any case his posse of policemen was bereft of women constables at that hour of the night.
It is a another matter that the Ministry of External Affairs had to do the explaining to Africans envoys accredited to New Delhi and assure them that there was nothing racist about the incident and that it was just an aberration. Mr. Kejriwal’s lone woman Minister, Miss Birla had the same day chosen to help out an MLA colleague from AAP, in settling scores with a former landlord and off and away was she on her search of the quarry who one learns has since been fixed.
The Chief Minster, having spent a rain-soaked night outside the Rail Bhawan, quilts and mattresses had been procured, had a grouse, though, that the nearby offices (Krishi Bhawan, Rail Bhawan etc.) had chosen to be nasty by locking up the premises which they normally do at each night, to bar him and his men from access to the toilets. The divide between the rulers and the ruled was thus illustrated by the AAP leader.
In the end, though, bravado apart, Mr. Kejriwal must have been praying for a face-saver which, thank god, was managed by his party colleague, the cunningly suave Yogendra Yadav who persuaded the Lt. Governor to send two of the five cops Kejriwal had asked to be suspended, on leave instead. That was the prop Kejriwal’s ego needed to proclaim that he had humbled the might of corrupt politicians. “It is our victory”, he told the crowd. Hardly so, it seemed to me and many others who had kept their fingers crossed for the whole of two days praying for a resolution of this silly episode.