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HindustanTimes Sat,12 Jul 2014
Visionary or vigilante: ups and downs of AAP
Shivani Singh, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, January 20, 2014
First Published: 13:05 IST(20/1/2014)
Last Updated: 13:08 IST(20/1/2014)

With no experience in governance, chief minister Arvind Kejirwal played the quintessential aam aadmi in his first assembly session two weeks ago. "We may have shortcomings and lack vision," he told the House veterans, "but I want to assure you that our intentions are pure."

The Janata Darbar, AAP's first experiment with direct democracy, was a disaster but the rookie government graciously accepted that it was a mistake.

Kejriwal showed the humility to quickly abandon the idea and instead adopted a far more manageable system of online grievance redress and one-to-one sessions with smaller groups. He also launched a helpline to hear the problems thousands of harrowed parents are facing to get their wards admitted into private schools.

But the boldest and the most visionary of all decisions was the move to free the Yamuna riverbed by agreeing to remove the Delhi Transport Corporation's Millennium bus depot. Set up as a temporary structure to accommodate buses to ferry athletes during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the depot stayed put after the Games.

In the Delhi Master Plan 2021, the Yamuna riverbed comes under the 'O' zone, which has to remain untouched by urbanisation. But it is the biggest land grab in Delhi. The Akshardham temple, Metro stations and loco-sheds, the Delhi Secretariat, Ring Road bypass - each time a structure was constructed on the riverbank, the previous Delhi governments regularised them as the last exception. Yet new ones kept coming up. Environmentalists warned that such soft policies would be invitations to major urban tragedies. But nobody cared.

Last week, Kejriwal said he couldn't remove the existing structures except the bus depot but his government would not allow any new construction close to the river. This moratorium would be the first step towards the revival of the Yamuna, which is Delhi's best insurance against water scarcity and environmental hazards.

One wishes Kejriwal showed the same wisdom and humility in other areas of governance. But when his law minister Somnath Bharti led a midnight swoop on Ugandan women in a flat in Khirki Extension in south Delhi and wanted them arrested for supposed prostitution and drug peddling, the chief minister stood by him. So what if it is illegal to enter private properties without a warrant! So what if arrests cannot be made without investigation! Cops are anyway never to be trusted.

Cops are the popular symbol of everything that is wrong with the system. In its tirade against the police force, AAP is hoping to cash in on this sentiment. It may just work for the party in the short term as there are many takers for Bharti's vigilantism, which plays on xenophobia and moral highhandedness.

Instances of racism are not uncommon in Delhi. Africans living in the city narrate quite horrific stories of discrimination, hate rumours, and even physical violence. Children often threw stones and some even spat at them, more than 12 African expats living in south Delhi told HT.

People from the northeast face similar harassment. Women from these states become targets of sexual violence. Neighbours show intolerance towards their dietary and socialising preferences. Even Muslims have problems renting homes and finding jobs in Delhi.

Kejriwal argues that his minister was just following up on complains made by the residents who had earlier sought help from local cops but got no response. But he only ended up fanning racial prejudices. As a minister, Bharti could have easily taken up the matter with senior police officials and sought an investigation. Instead, he took a shot at instant justice. Worse, his chief minister backed him in that dangerously populist pursuit.

One does not know if Kejriwal is tired of owning up mistakes or if he has his eyes set on certain short-term goals. But when a party that swears by the panacea of a Jan Lokpal so brazenly backs kangaroo courts, it paints a very scary picture of the future. Delhi deserves better from AAP.


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