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Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal declared himself an “anarchist” on Monday and called for a 10-day protest, creating traffic chaos and a standoff with hundreds of Delhi Police officers. What's more, the protest by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader may disrupt Republic Day celebrations.
He took to the streets near the site of the annual Republic Day military parade on Monday to press his demands for reforms of the police in the capital.
The unprecedented government-led protests in the country's most sensitive security areas, minutes away from Parliament and the Prime Minister's Office, also saw pre-emptive closure of four metro stations.
Early in the day, baton-wielding police prevented Kejriwal and AAP leaders from taking their stir against alleged police inaction to the doorstep of the Union home ministry, which controls Delhi Police.
"We have come here for auto drivers, the hawkers and everyone who have to pay bribes to the Delhi police," he said after battling blockades to reach a spot near the presidency building.
After his address, he sat on a makeshift podium surrounded by several hundred AAP supporters as more than 1,000 police and several anti-riot vehicles stood by.
“Some people say that I'm an anarchist creating disorder. Yes I'm an anarchist. I agree to that!" Kejriwal shouted. “But today every home has this anarchy, it's so expensive that people can't make ends meet. Women are unsafe.
By evening the situation turned more chaotic after AAP leaders and supporters jostled with the police, accusing them of having assaulted a party MLA. The police denied the charge .
Traffic snarls intensified in several parts of an already gridlocked Capital as the stand-off continued.
The CM wants the Delhi Police force to come under the control of the state government instead of the central government, which runs it via the home ministry.
Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti had last week set out to “uncover a sex and drug racket” at a building in south Delhi’s Khirki Extension, having earlier sent a decoy customer. But when Bharti, a lawyer, asked the policemen accompanying him to raid the building, they refused in the absence of a search warrant or proper police back-up. “The ‘raid’ would have been illegal,” said a senior officer.
Rakhi Birla, the women and child development minister, had her own run-in with the police in Sagarpur when they allegedly refused to apprehend the in-laws of a woman who has been hospitalised with 45% burns.
Kejriwal has called for the police officers who refused to act on the ministers’ to be suspended and Monday's sit-in protest had initially been called to press this demand.
"I couldn't sleep last night. All those who think their daughters, wives are not safe on Delhi streets, come and join us here," he said on Monday as supporters waved brooms, the party's symbol.
"Earlier I thought it would create problems with the Republic Day celebrations. But celebrations are meaningless if we look at the current state of affairs… Any constitutional crisis or disturbance in Republic Day celebrations will be the responsibility of Centre," he told the crowd gathered around him.
Meanwhile, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde told reporters that a probe was on over Kejriwal’s allegations and action would be taken once it’s over. To this, the Delhi CM said, “Delhi government will not cooperate with inquiry against police in a South Delhi raid episode. Probe a waste.”
Shinde also said that protests in the area had been banned and that Kejriwal should move to a park reserved for demonstrations.
“If he wants to demonstrate they should go to Jantar Mantar, that is what that place is for,” Shinde told reporters. He also ruled out transferring control of the police to the state government.
“This is a special situation in Delhi, it is the national capital,” he said. “This has been a demand for many years. That isn't possible.”
Kejriwal’s call for demonstrations was heeded by several hundred, but police were stopping others from joining.
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(With inputs from AFP)