NEW DELHI: Delhi’s “anarchist” chief minister Arvind Kejriwal faced savage press criticism on Wednesday after a two-day protest in the capital that could check the dizzying rise of India’s new political star.
The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner, who took office less than a month ago amid a wave of support for his ideals, called for mass demonstrations on Monday to press for police reform.
After two days and a night sleeping rough on a pavement in the centre of the capital, he called off the agitation late Tuesday with few of his demands heeded and his credibility shaken.
“It seems Kejriwal, who branded himself an anarchist, is unable to transform himself from rabble-rouser to a responsible chief minister,” the Hindustan Times said in an editorial Wednesday.
Kejriwal formed his Aam Aadmi (common man) Party just over a year ago, and it made sensational gains in Delhi’s state election in December with its no-tolerance approach to endemic corruption.
Its core support came from the poor and the educated middle-class who saw an alternative to India’s graft-tainted Congress party, in power nationally, and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. After taking office, he won plaudits for shunning the VIP culture of Indian politics, taking the metro to his inauguration and travelling elsewhere in his trademark small blue car.
Early moves such as providing abandoned buses for the homeless to sleep in earned favourable headlines, as did pledges to provide cheap electricity and free water.
A flood of members, including entrepreneurs and a television anchor, joined AAP and the party suggested it would contest up to 400 seats in national elections due by May.
But the radical tone of recent announcements from Kejriwal, who threatened to disrupt the annual Republic Day military parade on Sunday, and his decision to protest in a city he was elected to run, were widely criticised.
The Times of India said the sit-in had been a distraction from an opportunity to improve Delhi and show good governance, adding that “the middle class is unlikely to fall for such gimmickry”.
Others supported his cause and saw courage in his actions, meaning the episode might have lost him fewer voters than editorial writers in the English-speaking media have assumed.
“Who is he fighting for? Us!” said Vishesh Sharma, who sells snacks on a street in central Delhi. “What he did was right. These cops are corrupt and extort bribes from poor people like us.”
Samir Ahmad, who works in a parking lot in the same area, said Kejriwal’s target was “a very good cause”.
“Take our case, whenever there is any controversy or conflict in the parking lot and we call the cops, first they come late and then they try and extract money from us,” he said.
Kejriwal launched his protest on Monday to demand that five policemen whom he accused of misconduct be suspended and the city’s police force be put under his control, instead of the central government. Some of the police he targeted were involved in a late-night incident last week when Delhi’s state law minister, AAP member Somnath Bharti, identified a house suspected of being used for prostitution and drug-dealing.
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