Delhi, less than a month ago, voted the AAP back into government with a decisive majority. The victory was a clear message to the BJP, rejecting divisive and communal politics in the wake of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill. Now, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his party is facing their toughest test as violent riots in parts of the national capital have taken the lives of more than 40 people. Himanshi Dahiya, in a column for The Quint, writes on Kejriwal and the Delhi violence –
“Armed with his development pitch and welfare schemes, Arvind Kejriwal looks like a messiah, especially at time when the Indian democracy is witnessing a rudderless Opposition. However, in less than a month of results’ declaration, Kejriwal stands exposed. As Delhi witnessed one of the worst communal violence in decades, the chief minister and his party’s cadre were missing. The chief minister’s slumber has failed both, Hindus and Muslims in India's national capital”.
Even more concerning for Kejriwal, an AAP MLA has been accused of inciting violence in the north east parts of Delhi last week. Tahir Hussain, who has since been suspended from the party, is alleged to be involved in the violence and subsequent killing of an Intelligence Bureau officer. After registering a FIR against him, Hussain has maintained his innocence. “Any person who is found guilty should be given stringent punishment. If any Aam Aadmi Party person is found guilty then that person should be given double the punishment”, said Kejriwal at a press conference. A Sunday Guardian report stated that Tahir Hussain was a muscleman and known for notorious activities in the Chand Bagh area citing conversations with locals.
The mass outpouring against the divisive Citizenship Bill boiled over. Some parts of Delhi were under curfew, more than a hundred arrests and the death toll climbing; the AAP hasn’t been effective in responding fast enough to the situation. The role of the local government has to come under scrutiny for its handling of the law and order, particularly at a time when things are at a boiling point. Shivam Vij, Contributing Editor, The Print, in a column writes on Kejriwal walking a “secular-communal tightrope” -
“The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) comes across as not having done much in the last one week. The AAP even now is not doing enough in the riot-affected areas. It has been slow in setting up relief camps. The AAP is particular that it does not want to be seen as either “secular” or “communal”. We saw what happened around 2016 when Kejriwal went all out against Modi. They don’t want to do dharna politics anymore”.
Prior to the election, it was noted that Kejriwal was silent when it came to speaking about the incidents at Shaheen Bagh. It didn’t cost him electorally; however, now the situation has worsened. The Delhi police have also garnered harsh criticism for allowing violent protestors to have their way while standing idle. There were instances of men openly wielding a gun and pointing them at protestors while the police didn’t act.
In this regard, the AAP in a way has its hand tied. The Delhi police is controlled by the central government. Security in the national capital, which essentially has a dual government, can sometime be caught in-between. The AAP has come under criticism for focusing on optics. A delegation of citizens and women’s rights activists met with Kejriwal urging the Delhi government to be more visible and proactive in order to maintain peace in the capital. Kejriwal has outright blamed the BJP for the riots and violence, accusing the centre of not giving clear orders to the Delhi police. Meghnad Desai, in an op-ed for The Indian Express writes on why the Delhi Chief Minister should be in charge of the Delhi police –
“This fear could have been, should have been, removed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, if he had used his powers of communication to explain the contents of the CAA as well as the context in which it was going to be used. All are in this together, the secular parties as well as the nationalists. One thing is clear. Delhi cannot go on having a dual government. Make it a state so the Chief Minister can take charge of security. The Central government is too remote”.
The Delhi election was a referendum on the politics of the BJP in light of some its controversial policies. The AAP focussed on a populist message of governance and promises on education and healthcare. He won in part thanks to Muslim voters who were alienated by the Modi-Shah alliance of the BJP and its divisiveness. However, in the midst of the riots and deaths, Kejriwal hasn’t appeased those who helped him electorally. Despite meeting with Amit Shah to help deal with the situation, he hasn’t been quiet about his criticism for the government. Zainab Sikander, in a column for The Print writes on why Kejriwal has let Muslim down –
“Arvind Kejriwal’s inertia during the Delhi riots, which took place in the capital of India in broad daylight, has many doubting his ‘secular’ credentials. It was Kejriwal’s antics against the BJP and the Congress as the ‘aam aadmi’ who spoke truth to power that made him the nation’s sweetheart. Arvind Kejriwal is now in a predicament. And he has himself dug this hole. Only time can tell whether Kejriwal will be able to dodge this bullet. But one thing is for sure. He is repeating the mistakes of the Congress. And that can cost him dearly”.
Going forward, the AAP and Kejriwal have their work cut out for them. The protests against the BJP’s policies with regard to the Citizenship Bill aren’t to stop or slow down. One doesn’t want another round of riots or violence in any city or region; however, as things remain tense, it’s a test for leadership and for the party. The Indian Express editorial offers this assessment -
“Individual acts of empathy are simply not enough. The political class must recognise its responsibility. It can encourage and embolden the best in society, or the worst. Leaders can engage in oratory or demagoguery. And society at large must decide what behaviour it will reward in its politicians”.
More columns by Varun Sukumar