It’s been just two weeks since Arvind Kejriwal has taken charge as chief minister of the national capital Delhi for a third time, and he hasn’t probably had even a moment to properly take stock of his office, before being thrown headfirst into his first serious challenge.
Over the last four days, violence has been reported from parts of the city. It was ostensibly triggered by the anti-CAA protests, which several BJP politicians have called to be dismantled. At last count, the violence had claimed 21 lives — apart from posing a series of existential questions about the place of Muslims in a city known for its Sultanate architecture, as it is for its towering Hanuman statue and Akshardham temple.
As horrific visuals of bleeding men being dragged across streets, and goons roaming with lathis and sticks, seemingly with the approval of the police, took over our timelines, there’s been an outpouring of shock, anger, disbelief, and dismay. Much of this anger was directed at the Delhi police, and Home Minister Amit Shah, the man in charge of this force. But a significant amount of anger was reserved for the chief minister, who was recently elected on a progressive agenda, and promise for a better future for the country’s capital.
While a very vocal section of the internet has been accusing Kejriwal of staying silent while the city burns — he even took time out to tweet about how proud he was that the FLOTUS visited one of his schools while people were dying in his state — another section has pointed out that he’s done everything he can to control the violence, and that we should instead divert our pleas to the home minister.
But has Kejriwal done all he can to stop the violence?
So what has Kejriwal actually been doing for the last three days? According to the other side of the debate, “the best he can”.
The question first arose when the CM and his AAP MLAs were issued a circular by a small group of lawyers representing the detained protestors. It mentioned that despite repeated attempts, the CM failed to intervene in the riot-like situation, and that calls to local MLAs – including the star Atishi – went unanswered despite several attempts to contact them when communal violence erupted in the city.
Later that night, when protestors gathered outside the chief minister’s house to demand action against the mob, they were greeted with water cannons, leading some to believe that the CM did have some control of the police after all.
Meanwhile, that same evening, a delegation of concerned citizens and women’s rights activists did manage to earn a meeting with the chief minister and his deputy Manish Sisodia, in which they urged him to take “more visible and proactive measures” to prevent rioting and restore peace and confidence in the city.
The group also shared ground reports with the CM and urged him to open “nodal peace-keeping centres, and safe houses” for vulnerable people, and start a helpline for SOS calls. They left after assurances that their demands will be looked into.
As horrific visuals of bleeding men being dragged across streets, and goons roaming with lathis and sticks, seemingly with the approval of the police, took over our timelines.
So what has Kejriwal actually been doing for the last three days? According to the other side of the debate, “the best he can”. It’s a known fact that the Delhi Chief Minister doesn’t have power over the police — barring a few sections of the CrPC which gives the Executive Magistrate the right to use the civil force (or the police) — a fact that Kejriwal has himself been screaming from the rooftops for the last few years. It’s also known that he doesn’t have the power to summon the armed forces (he’s already flagged the situation as “alarming”, blamed the violence on outsiders, and requested the Home Ministry to deploy troops as well as impose curfew in violence-hit areas.)
While the chief minister drew a lot of flak for not being visible enough, he did have a packed day yesterday. He held meetings with his MLAs, and asked them to form peace committees, before visiting injured parties at various hospitals, as well as the home of head constable Ratan Lal who died on Monday. Kejriwal also held a meeting with Amit Shah, L-G Anil Baijal, the Delhi Police commissioner and leaders of all political parties, before heading down to Rajghat to “pray for peace”.
Still, considering Kejriwal happens to be one of the BJP’s most outspoken critics, and has been involved with several public flare-ups with the Centre before this election season, the response to the violence has not been as enthusiastic as most would have expected. Now, as the CM finally prepares to visit the violence-hit areas in Northeast Delhi, almost four days after it broke out, one can only hope it’s not too little too late.
This article was originally published on Arre
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