'Anarchist' Delhi chief minister calls 10-day protest
New Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal addresses supporters after taking his oath of office at a ceremony in New Delhi. India's corruption fighter and newly elected chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced a graft hotline January 8, 2014 aimed at stopping wrongdoing by bureaucrats. AFP PHOTO/RAVEENDRAN/FILES - by Raveendran
Arvind Kejriwal, a firebrand grassroots organiser, 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.
"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 supporters of his Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party as more than 1,000 police and several anti-riot vehicles stood by.
The Republic Day celebrations, due Sunday, are an annual celebration of India's military might when missiles, tanks and marching soldiers parade down the main road leading to the presidency building.
"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."
His party, formed little over a year ago, made sensational gains in Delhi state elections held in December and he is eyeing parliamentary polls due by May amid a nationwide surge in support for his campaign.
The 45-year-old wants Delhi's police force to come under the control of the Delhi state government instead of the central government, which runs it via the home ministry.
Officers are often accused of taking bribes, failing to pursue cases or doing enough to protect women's safety in a city still seething from the much publicised fatal gang rape of a woman just over a year ago.
Last week, a 51-year-old Danish tourist was allegedly gang-raped in the capital, casting the spotlight once again on the city's reputation for attacks on women.
But the new Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti was accused last week of vigilantism after he went out to an area of Delhi to raid a house allegedly used for prostitution and drug dealing.
Police would not follow his orders to raid the property without a warrant and Bharti was then accused of detaining four Ugandan women who said they were locked in a car and threatened by his supporters.
Kejriwal has called for the police officers who refused to raid the house 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 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," he told the crowd gathered around him.
The area around the site of the Republic Day parade -- the British colonial-era centre that includes the presidency, parliament and several ministries -- is locked down by security forces during the celebrations.
Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told reporters 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.
Retired government official Shyam Sunder Singh, 62, said he supported the chief minister's tactics.
"Kejriwal is a true hero. He is not afraid of anyone. He can take on the high and mighty like no one else can," he said, wearing a white Gandhi cap which has been adopted by party members.
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