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India – Politics: AAP[alling] Drama – Media Commentary

 

 

Arvind Kejriwal and friends

Arvind Kejriwal and friends (Photo credit: vm2827)

 

The Hindu, January 22, 2014

Editorial

The antics of a Chief Minister

Until reason prevailed, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was not
merely sitting in in Delhi, he was also toying with the
people’s trust and endangering their hopes for an alternative form of
and administration. By holding the city to ransom until he
called it off last evening, he was violating the mandate of those who
voted for his party in the belief that he would place the public
interest above political posturing. And by making the patently
unjustified demand that police officers who refused to comply with his
Minister’s illegal orders be suspended, he was undermining the rule of
law. It is strange that he should be defending vigilantism by his
Ministers. The drama began last week when Ministers in the AAP
government embarked on law enforcement, in a fit of
self-righteousness, against purported prostitution and drug-peddling.
In one instance, their target was a group of Ugandan women, who were
detained, vilified and forced to give urine samples, with groups of
vigilantes hovering nearby. Forgotten here was the fact that Indian
law does not permit arbitrary search and seizure, especially involving
women in the dead of the night. Delhi’s Law Minister Somnath Bharti
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. The External Affairs Ministry had to assure diplomats
from African countries that the incident was an aberration, and not to
be viewed as an instance of how the country treats African nationals.
Surprisingly, the police are yet to proceed against Mr. Bharti; nor
has Mr. Kejriwal thought it fit to drop him from his Cabinet.

Mr. Kejriwal sought to give a veneer of political legitimacy to his
absurd drama by raising the larger demand that the Delhi Police, now
under the Union Home Ministry, be made accountable to the Delhi
government, as he wants to ensure better security for the people of
Delhi. There is nothing new in this demand and it is hardly the kind
of issue for which the Chief Minister should plunge the city into
anarchy. Bringing the Delhi Police under the State government involves
amendments to the law and a process of calm negotiation. If at all
there is a political explanation for his actions, it is that Mr.
Kejriwal wants to invite the dismissal of his government, or at least
withdrawal of support by the Congress, so that he can face the Lok
Sabha election in the garb of a martyr. It was time he put his party
and his government on a proper course and called off the unseemly
agitation. A certain directness, simplicity and a move away from the
VIP culture did mark a welcome change, but Mr. Kejriwal should guard
against the new style degenerating into antics.

o o o

Daily News and Analysis

Editorial: Failing a promise

Jan 21, 2014

came to power promising an alternative politics, but Somnath
Bharti’s actions and the party’s defence of them is not the way to go
about it.

In the aftermath of Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti’s actions last
week, the escalating drama has rapidly created a situation where the
main issues at stake have become tangled to their detriment. And chief
minister Arvind Kejriwal’s protest outside Rail Bhavan — doubling down
in the standoff with the police and central government stemming from
last week — is further obfuscating them, creating a confused mix of
pertinent ends and faulty means. There are two main elements here. The
first is law and order for the capital being within the central
government’s purview rather than with the state administration. This
is an administrative oddity that serves no particular purpose,
undercuts the latter and enables police corruption and
ineffectiveness. AAP is not alone in arguing the point; former chief
minister Sheila Dikshit has spoken of this in the past, and so has the
BJP. The other element is the incident last week that catalysed the
current situation, and AAP’s continued backing of Bharti’s actions.
This is far more problematic.

The criminal case now registered against Bharti and multiple accounts
of Wednesday night’s events have made this much clear: the manner in
which Bharti and his cohort compelled the Nigerian and Ugandan women
to be detained and subjected to medical tests was at best extra-legal,
and at worst an instance of mob justice. Neither did the law minister
appear to have a clear understanding of the limits of his authority —
or the police’s — when he harangued police officers for not following
his instructions and raiding a house he alleged was a hub of
prostitution and drug dealing.  Laws preventing the authorities from
freely taking action against individuals on the basis of suspicion are
among the strongest barriers to state overreach. If the current
protest is predicated on the assumption that putting the Delhi police
under the state government’s control would compel it to fulfil AAP’s
demands, no matter the circumstances, it is a dangerous one.

As troubling is the strong element of racism in the entire affair.
Bharti’s rhetoric hasn’t helped in this regard. When he warns that
foreigners will be tolerated only if they are “good people”, he is
employing a familiar rhetoric, that of groups like the Shiv Sena and
Bajrang Dal. And by accusing the BJP and the Congress of harbouring
pimps and supporting drug dealing and prostitution, he has employed
the crude tactics of mainstream parties where nuance is an ignored
concept and with-us-or-against-us polemics are the order of the day.

AAP now faces a choice. There is legitimate anger in the capital
against its police force and racism against African nationals is an
unfortunately widespread sentiment. If Kejriwal chooses to tap into
these sentiments, explicitly or implicitly, he may well find that his
party has popular support. It may even be a canny move politically; by
taking on the police and underlining its lack of control over them,
the AAP government is putting itself in a position to disavow all
responsibility for rape cases and other law-and-order problems. But
this would be bargaining away a vital element of AAP’s promise. It has
come to power on a plank of alternative politics. Such a politics does
not include only matters of governance and corruption, but race and
sex as well. Defending Bharti’s actions — and conflating them with a
needed reform — is no part of it.

o o o

Financial Times

January 21, 2014 1:24 pm

Delhi’s AAP accused of failing to swap for governance

By Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

Push comes to shove: supporters of Arvind Kejriwal break police
barricades in New Delhi on Tuesday

When India’s year-old Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, party, unexpectedly
took power in Delhi last month, euphoric residents of the city hoped
for a much-needed revolution in governance from a party rooted in a
popular anti-corruption movement.

But the AAP’s political honeymoon is ending fast, as its
street-fighting tactics, including vigilantism and protests threaten
to alienate the middle-class voters who helped propel it into power
and raise its aspirations for a bigger role on the national political
stage.

“In my view, the AAP’s magic has lost its shine,” says Dipankar Gupta,
sociologist and author of books on India. “On the national front, the
AAP has kind of blown it. Either they don’t have a game plan, or they
are not able to plot their strategy properly.”

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister, on Tuesday called off a
36-hour street protest he had instigated to back his demand that
authority over Delhi’s police be transferred from the national
government to the local administration.

The demonstration, and the police closure of metro stations and
blocking of main roads to prevent AAP supporters from joining the
protest, caused serious traffic jams and huge problems for commuters.

The rabble-rousing tactics have also prompted fierce criticism that
the AAP is failing to make the transition from activism to governance.
It has even fuelled speculation that Mr Kejriwal is angling for the
Congress party, which has backed his minority administration, to
withdraw its support and spare him the difficulties of governing the
city of 17m people.

“Delhi govt goes missing,” screamed a banner headline in The Indian
Express newspaper on yesterday morning. Inside, a scathing editorial
said: “Despite heading a state government now, Arvind Kejriwal’s party
seems to know only one trick – that of showy, permanent insurrection.”

The AAP’s stunning electoral upset in Delhi – on the back of strong
middle-class support – prompted talk of it as a wild card in upcoming
parliamentary elections, offering a fresh alternative to voters fed up
with both India’s ruling Congress and its rival Bharatiya Janata
party.

They’ve brought in a militant protest culture and a confrontational attitude

– Swapan Das Gupta, political analyst

But even before Mr Kejriwal’s street protest, serious doubts had
emerged about the new administration’s style that critics say seems
rooted in vigilantism or mob rule.

Its first step in the battle against corruption has been a new
telephone hotline that coaches citizens on how to carry out sting
operations against bribe-seekers. Party volunteers dispatched to
assess state facilities like schools and hospitals were accused of
manhandling the staff.

Then last week, Somnath Bharti, the AAP’s law minister, led a mob in a
controversial raid in which four Ugandan women complained of being
held hostage in their car for hours. Other African women complained
that mobs tried to kick down their doors.

Mr Kejriwal’s street protest – which began with the Delhi police’s
refusal to obey Mr Bharti’s orders to arrest the Ugandan women without
proper warrants – amplified doubts.

“This is the instinct of people who have always agitated,” Swapan Das
Gupta, a political analyst, said of the current demonstration.

“They’ve brought in a militant protest culture and a confrontational
attitude. They will certainly alienate the middle class. Chaos is
something they don’t want.”

Additional reporting by Avantika Chilkoti in Jaipur.

o o o

The Times of India

View

Aam admi copout

Jan 22, 2014, 12.05 AM IST

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal has said that his government is open to
learning, as well as criticism from media. He should therefore be open
to the idea that it’s a chief minister’s job to govern with whatever
tools he has at his disposal (and they are plenty). A government
resorting to dharna and placing the national capital under siege is a
copout. If AAP’s unprecedented moves in this direction are designed to
tempt Congress to pull the plug from their government and thereby prop
up popular support for itself, it’s a pointless political gimmick.

AAP’s core support base — on which it is relying not only to sustain
itself but also to scale up rapidly across the country — is the
educated middle class and youth. The middle class is unlikely to fall
for such gimmickry. It will find mainstream parties’ taunt, that
Kejriwal plays opposition leader even as CM because AAP lacks the
capacity to govern, more credible. Youth value jobs and personal
freedom, they will bolt when they find AAP policies militate against
both. Congress could well refuse Kejriwal’s temptation and string AAP
along, till the latter makes a complete mess of governance.

AAP has resorted to a cruel parody of the Gandhian idea of dharna. In
Gandhi’s time colonial authorities enjoyed absolute power, dharnas and
strikes were the only available means of protest to people stripped of
power. But Kejriwal appears to be using his dharna to reach for
absolute power. He demands action against cops who upheld due process
and human rights when four Ugandan women were allegedly assaulted by a
mob instigated by vigilante law minister Somnath Bharti. The dharna
also crystallises fears around the Jan Lokpal Bill, whose main
criticism is that it hands over unchecked powers of harassment to a
vigilante Lokayukta.

o o o

Hindustan Times
January 21, 2014

Edit:
The agitation by Kejriwal and party made life really difficult for aam aadmi

Everyone expected the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to preside over a
government with a difference. But no one quite thought that this would
amount to protests and clashes with the police even as it got off the
starting blocks. As chief minister Arvind Kejriwal led the street
protests in the
Capital to get some policemen suspended, Metro stations were shut
down, buses diverted and roads near India Gate blocked. He has now
called off the dharna after apparently coming to a compromise with the
government and an assurance from the lieutenant governor that one SHO
would be sent on leave. Kejriwal’s dharna with his Cabinet colleagues
and supporters was anything but genuinely revolutionary.

At a time when the need of the hour is good governance, one wonders if
the way to achieve this was through the CM himself sitting on a dharna
and signing classified files on the pavement. It seems Kejriwal, who
branded himself an anarchist, is unable to transform himself from a
rabble-rouser to a responsible chief minister. Kejriwal, who spent
Monday night on the street amid heavy security deployment, wants the
Delhi Police to be brought under the control of the state government.
However justified his demand is (his predecessor Sheila Dikshit too
made a similar request), a CM must display faith in the political
system and take up the matter through the right channels.

AAP, born from the anti-corruption movement, has been in power only
for three weeks and with the Lok Sabha elections a few months away it
must utilise this time to showcase its achievements rather than
fuelling the suspicion that AAP is trying to push the Congress to the
wall so that the latter withdraws support. In effect, this will
deflect attention from the promises AAP has not delivered on. The
dharna caused enormous inconvenience to the aam aadmi with commuters
having to walk long distances to reach work. With the security threat
in the Capital heightened as Republic Day approaches, the police had
to deal with the unruly protestors at the dharna at the cost of
safeguarding the welfare of the aam aadmi.

The debasing of public discourse as in the language used by the
party’s top brass is something that Mr Kejriwal should condemn
roundly. From Kumar Vishwas’ racist and sexist remarks about nurses
from Kerala to law minister Somnath Bharti’s statement that he wanted
to spit on BJP leader Arun Jaitley and senior lawyer Harish Salve
because the two had criticised his vigilantism, AAP’s rogue elements
seem to be taking the CM’s silence as approval of their conduct. If
this is the change that many people sought, some among them must be
hankering for the pre-AAP days.

o o o

The Telegraph
January 21 , 2014

Editorial

WRONG ACTION

Democratic governance is not just about translating political will
into immediate action. It is also the fruit of rational thought. This
rationality is the foundation on which the institutions of democracy
must stand, and must be embodied in its leaders as well. The Aam Aadmi
Party’s recent interventions in governance do not bode well for these
essential principles of democratic modernity. And what is more
alarming is that the lack of hard thinking, and of working out
consistent and clearheaded positions on matters of governance, comes
with a populism that is fairly adept at drawing upon collective
mindsets and prejudices in the name of a radical transformation of
politics. The Delhi law minister’s recent raid on Ugandan women in the
capital, followed by alleged physical violations of their right to
justice and privacy, not only undermines the due process of law, but
also taps into the worst kinds of racist and misogynist prejudice that
the women regularly face in the city. Moreover, in the way the
minister and his volunteers have chosen to handle the situation, and
the chief minister continues to endorse this modus operandi, has led
to a confrontation with the police that further degrades the political
and administrative ethos of democratic rule.

There is something unpleasantly ironic about a law minister first
harnessing popular racism and misogyny, and then expecting the police
to subvert correct pocedure at his behest, in order to enforce the
rule of law. When a highly proactive antipathy to corruption is built,
among other things, on notions of purity that equate racial, cultural
and sexual difference with the illegal and the immoral, and when such
a position is empowered by the mandate of the ‘people’, then the risk
of a polity built on such impulses becoming unacceptably majoritarian
is rather grave. The AAP seems to have arrived at a rationale for such
behaviour through its own theories of how drugs, sex and rape are
related to one another, and are embodied in people who are, as the
minister put it, “not like you and me”. Such a commonsensical idea of
what is good or bad for the “common man” — held by more than one
minister affiliated to the party — seems to bypass the usual
institutions of law and order, like the police and the courts. This is
hardly the alternative to corruption and nepotism that would bring new
life to a jaded polity.

o o o

Deccan Herald

Editorial: Immature action

Jan 21, 2014 :

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his supporters, who sat on a
dharna in Delhi demanding executive control over the police and
transfer of some police personnel, have called off their protest
action.

The action of the head of an elected government taking to the streets
to put public pressure on the Central government to concede a demand
had created an unprecedented situation. The Delhi police, for
historical and practical reasons, has been under the control of the
Union home ministry. Governments in Delhi, including the previous
Congress government, have been unhappy about this and have demanded
transfer of police powers to the state. The blame for law and order
problems goes to the state government but the power and responsibility
to enforce the law vest with the Centre. This is an odd situation.
There is perhaps a case for a change of the arrangement but the
tactics adopted by Kejriwal to force the issue might not find ready
acceptance.

Kejriwal has claimed that he resorted to his unconventional protest
because of the refusal of the Delhi police to conduct a late night
raid on a house where some African women were allegedly running  a
drug and prostitution racket. The AAP saw this as an attempt to shield
criminal elements. In another case, another minister put pressure on
the police to arrest some people allegedly involved in a dowry crime.
In both cases there was an  element of vigilantism which goes against
the norms and procedures of the rule of law. The demands made by the
ministers and the method adopted by Kejrival  were in agreement with
the populist stances advocated by the Aam Aadmi Party on other issues.
They have always made known that they would not accept the argument of
limitations of the system in finding solutions to
problems.

The dharna was called off after an assurance was given that some
action would be taken against the police men who, according to the
AAP, were guilty of lapses. This might be considered a victory by the
party. But was it?  It should realise that straining the system beyond
its limits would only be counter-productive. However well-intentioned
the ideas and demands of a person, group or party, vigilantism and
populism are not the ideal methods to get them implemented. The AAP is
in a hurry to change the system. But it should think through the full
implications of its actions.

 

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