The political weight of AAP’s Dharna

Ayushman Jamwal

ImageAfter two days of demonstrations in the heart of the national capital, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP has earned the wrath of the political parties and the public intelligentsia. The government has broken all political protocol for demanding the accountability of the Delhi Police after the recent gang rape of a Danish national near the New Delhi Railway station and the Delhi Law minister’s unsuccessful demand to an SHO to investigate an alleged drug and sex racket in the Khirki extension.

The dharna seemed more a pre-emptive action by Kejriwal, to throw the law and order situation at the door of the Home Ministry, which actually controls the Delhi police. The move also sent a very vocal message calling for the police force to be under state control, something supported but never vehemently raised by other political parties.

Governments are voted into power with the faith that elected representatives will take care of all aspects of governance, most importantly law and order. Whenever a crime in committed in the capital, the blame is thrown at the state Chief Minister. While there is a lack of awareness that the Home Ministry controls the Delhi police, even with wide public knowledge, the state government will continue to be held responsible for law and order.

Voters are never interested in technicalities. They demand results or vocal statements of support or objection. Only these endear politicians to the people and ensure political longevity. With the dharna, Kejriwal showed that he refused to pay the political price for the lack of actions of the Delhi police machinery which is not under his government’s control. The people who came to support his rally were the ordinary citizens of Delhi, filled with the same level of outrage as those who protested against the Delhi gang rape in 2012.

Kejriwal may not have changed the status quo of the Delhi Police, or may never be able to, but he scored major points in the game of perception. Unlike any other state minister, Somnath Bharti took up the concerns of people in the Khirki extension who have lodged complaints with the police for months without any action. If the state government couldn’t direct the police to take action, the Chief Minister led a protest demanding accountability from the Central government. The protest got full media coverage and the salient image of the agitation was protesters getting beaten by the police, which did no favours to the image of the police, but boost the legitimacy of the agitation.

The news media reported the AAP’s actions calling it vigilantism and anarchic politics, with the Congress, BJP and moral spokespersons formerly allied to Kejriwal denouncing the Chief Minister. But how connected is that sentiment to the realities on the ground?

The political parties themselves have no moral standing to launch strong criticism against the AAP government. It didn’t work when they launched a political attack over the sting operation on Shazia Ilmi and Kumar Vishwas before the elections, it won’t work less than a month since Kejriwal took office. On top of that, the opinions of Kiran Bedi and Captain Gopinath only look good on television debates. They have no real traction with the voters. No voter cares about rhetoric on what is ‘responsible governance’ or what is legal protocol’ by armchair activists, when their Chief Minister is a man of action, protesting for an important public cause with them on the streets of the capital.

With just a few months before the Lok Sabha polls, it is difficult for Kejriwal to show any major indicator of growth and development to the people of Delhi. In that scenario, he is actively posturing himself against his political opponents using his skills of showmanship which the news media cannot ignore. A majority of voters in Delhi want proactive representatives, a government of ministers who stand up for them, especially in cases of law and order without getting bogged down in technicalities. They are the people who have and will vote for the AAP and are a sizeable vote bank as compared to the drawing room orators of Delhi who have started to oppose the party.

With rise in crime in the city, the protesters, the voters cannot tolerate a helpless head of government. They will support a street fighter even if he is the Chief Minister, who throws out the rulebook when it comes in the way of effective public service.