AAP protests outside BJP HQ overpoll dates as MCD battle intensifies
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is “scared of” Delhi residents’ resentment over its governance in the city’s civic bodies over the past 15 years, senior leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Monday said, as thousands of party supporters protested outside the saffron party’s Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg headquarters, against the delay in the announcement of Delhi’s municipal poll dates.
Diversions put in place due to the protest, however, set off a domino effect on traffic, with commuters — especially those travelling from the eastern parts of Delhi — reporting delays of an hour or more.
Speaking at the protest, Gopal Rai, AAP’s Delhi convener, said, “The BJP is trying to intimidate the election commission... EC announced the model code of conduct but not the date of the election. This fight is not just a battle of elections. It’s about how they’ve silenced the election commission by intimidating it.”
The AAP’s MLA from Kalkaji, Atishi, called the delay a “poor precedent”. “Today they have delayed the election fearing an adverse outcome. What if BJP is losing in some other state and they adopt the same tactic of delaying the polls. It sets a poor precedent,” she said.
The Delhi state election commission (SEC), which was expected to declare on March 9 the schedule for elections to the three civic bodies, put off the announcement at the last minute, citing a communication from the central government about plans to merge Delhi’s three municipal corporations.
This delay has set off a war of words between the AAP and the BJP, which has governed the city’s civic bodies since 2007.
AAP leaders, including party chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, have alleged that the announcement was delayed at the behest of and due to intimidation by the BJP-ruled Centre. BJP leaders, however, said the protests showed that Delhi’s ruling party was “scared” at the prospect of the civic polls, and have said the municipal corporations needed “reform”.
Around 5,000 AAP supporters took part in the protest between 10.30am and 2.30pm, said Delhi Police officers, in which they surrounded the BJP’s headquarters.
Addressing party workers at the protest site, Rai said if the election commission’s press conference had taken place as planned, the AAP would have been preparing for the nominations of (candidates in the) MCD elections.
Speaking after Rai, Atishi asked why the Centre waited so long to announce reforms if it were concerned about the state of the civic bodies.
“If the BJP genuinely wanted to see progress in the MCD, it could have made this decision seven years ago, or five, or a year, or even a month ago. But this last-minute change signifies that they are well aware that the AAP was going to run the BJP out of power with a landslide victory in the MCD elections,” she added.
AAP MCD in-charge Durgesh Pathak added, “BJP hides behind unconstitutional methods out of fear of losing to a relatively minor political party. Delhi’s residents have been bearing the brunt of the BJP-ruled MCD’s misgovernance for the past 15 years. Now, they have proposed to merge the three MCDs and the AAP has no objection to this proposal. However, the merger does not warrant deferment of regular MCD elections,” he added.
Reacting to the demonstration at the BJP office, the party’s spokesperson Praveen Shankar Kapoor said the protest demonstrates that the AAP is “disturbed” about the municipal elections.
“The AAP has become just a power-hungry party which has no direction. It can do anything to get power. It can be seen from the fact that AAP councillors like Tahir Hussain who is an accused in Delhi riots and councillor Geeta Rawat who was arrested by CBI for taking bribes have not been removed from the party,” he added.
Hussain, who was suspended from the AAP’s primary membership after reports emerged of his alleged role in the riots, has denied the police’s allegations.
In Geeta Rawat’s case, the AAP has said they will the strictest action possible should be taken against her if she is found guilty of the charges levelled by the CBI. The party in their statement also said that the CBI should conduct an impartial probe.
Kapoor said that AAP should understand that Delhi MCD reforms will take a little time and the elections will be held very soon.
All snarls lead to ITO
As traffic police diverted traffic on several roads around ITO, traffic snarls were reported on all roads leading to the vital intersection, especially those from the eastern parts.
Delhi traffic police personnel said they were caught off guard by the demonstrators, who arrived in buses, mostly from east Delhi. Officers said they were aware of the AAP protest, but did not expect the large turnout.
Traffic police officers, along with police personnel from Central district, barricaded both carriageways of DDU Marg — at Minto Road and ITO (Ram Charan Agarwal Chowk) intersections — and diverted vehicles headed towards New Delhi Railway Station and Connaught Place to alternative routes. Around 1pm, the police started diverting traffic headed to ITO from Laxmi Nagar on the main ITO bridge towards the Geeta Colony bridge. This led to snarls near Rajghat towards Delhi Gate.
Traffic was also hit on Indraprastha Marg, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, Tilak Marg, Ring Road, Jawaharlal Nehru Marg (between Rajghat and Kamla Market), Geeta Colony-Noida Road, and Geeta Colony bridge.
Commuters headed for New Delhi Railway Station from Minto Road had to travel through Delhi Gate on Jawaharlal Nehru Marg and via Mandi House-Connaught Place towards their destination.
A senior traffic police officer said as more protesters arrived on buses and tried to move towards DDU Marg, traffic personnel diverted vehicles towards Raj Ghat from Vikas Marg near Delhi secretariat.
Most buses coming from eastern parts of Delhi were parked near Raj Ghat and the occupants were asked to walk towards the protest venue. Some buses were also found parked near Mata Sundari College, where heavy police barricading was done on all available routes leading to the BJP headquarters.
“We deployed over 100 personnel to manage the traffic, divert vehicles and clear the congestion. The diversions were in place from 10am to 2pm. Thereafter, all routes were restored and traffic became normal, as the protesters dispersed,” said the officer, asking not to be named.
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