Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal and three of his ministers have been on a sit-in protest at the office of Lietenant-Governor of Delhi Anil Baijal for the past week, but it was on Sunday that the movement saw the most momentum " the chief ministers of four states came out in support of the Aam Aadmi Party's protest, urging both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh to intervene and resolve the crisis.
Buoyed by their backing, AAP organised a massive march from Mandi House to the prime minister's official home. Thousands of supporters participated in the demonstration, but the Delhi Police stopped their progress at Parliament Street " they did not have permission to hold the rally " and AAP soon called off the protest for the day.
AAP supporters gathered outside Mandi House Metro station. Ravishankar Singh.
The unprecedented situation in Delhi began with the AAP leaders accusing Indian Administrative (IAS) officers of being on strike for months, since the alleged assault on chief secretary Anshu Prakash in February. The Kejriwal government claimed that IAS officers had not been attending meetings called by ministers in protest against the alleged assault, which had stalled schemes for the public. In their protest, the chief minister and his colleagues have been demanding that Baijal meet them and order the IAS officers to return to work.
Mamata Banerjee's strong backing
Of all the political leaders who have voiced their support for the AAP dharna so far, Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee has been the most articulate in its criticism of the crisis in Delhi. Ever an avid BJP critic, she led a press conference on Saturday night, along with the chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, to demand an end to the turmoil in the Delhi government and highlight the risk BJP poses to federalism with its strong-arm politics.
Such was the reaction to her support for Kejriwal and his dharna that the Congress was compelled to reach out to her. Believed to be at the behest of former party president Sonia Gandhi, Congress leader Ahmed Patel met the Trinamool Congress chief. It was likely that they discussed the current state of federalism in India and what could be done to protect it from the risks it faces from the ruling saffron party.
The meeting was arranged even though the Congress has refused to support the AAP strike. Senior leader and former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit called the protest at the L-G's office an "excuse" to avoid work. Calling it "completely unacceptable", she said, "The people of Delhi are very disappointed because they brought him (to power) with a huge majority, and this is how he is treating them."
It would be significant to note the stark difference of opinion between the Congress and its ally in Karnataka, the Janata Dal (Secular), which is led by Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy. Kumaraswamy had joined Banerjee at the press conference on Saturday to show his support for AAP's cause.
Growing support for AAP protest
In its power tussle with the lieutenant governor and the BJP, Kejriwal and his government has garnered the backing of several regional parties, even as the L-G's office continues to stay mum on the crisis.
Working president of the DMK MK Stalin said on Twitter what many are sure to have been thinking the past week: "I am concerned with the disdain shown by Lt. Gov. of Delhi towards an elected Chief Minister like @ArvindKejriwal. The BJP is proactively destroying the federal structure of this nation."
Mamata Banerjee led the press conference with three other chief ministers to express support for Arvind Kejriwal. PTI.
AAP has been at loggerheads with the two L-Gs Delhi has had since the party came to power. It has always maintained that the BJP uses the administrative head as a tool to hamper development in the national capital and thwart the Delhi government's work.
On Monday, Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) " a member of the BJP-led ruling National Democratic Alliance " became the latest to join the Kejriwal bandwagon. He said that those backing the IAS officers' strike "can reap political benefits" and also warned of how such immediate political benefits would harm democracy.
Rebel senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha went a step further to extend his support to Kejriwal. In an article for NDTV, he wrote that the BJP was still "punishing" AAP for "comprehensively defeating" the saffron party in the Delhi Assembly elections in 2015. He pointed out the flaws of a diarchical system of governance, adding a jibe that Atal Bihari Vajpayee would have handled the defeat "more maturely".
With his usual usual twinge of sarcasm, National Conference working president Omar Abdullah said: "Forget the arguments and counterarguments, a CM elected by the people of Delhi with an overwhelming majority is protesting in the lt governor's residence for the last six days & the powers that be couldn't seem to care less. Democracy anyone?"
Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, who never hesitates to criticise his ally in Maharashtra, expressed solidarity with Kejriwal and said: "In a democracy like ours, all elected governments should have a free hand to run the state. After all, they have been elected on the people's mandate. They have popular support. That has to be respected."
Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav said the situation in Delhi was "worse than the murder of democracy", and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav alleged that the BJP was taking "revenge on the people of Delhi" for not voting it to power in the capital in the last two decades.
Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), not only expressed his support for AAP, but also took part in the march in Delhi on Sunday. He accused the BJP of "using the office of governors and L-Gs" to "destabilise non-BJP democratically-elected state governments", giving the examples of Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya and Puducherry.
Regional parties Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) also voiced their support for the AAP dharna at the L-G's office. JMM working president and former chief minister Hemant Soren tweeted: "I salute the fight by Delhi for its rights. The AAP government in Delhi is forced to take to the street for its rights. What kind of democracy is it? Jharkhand is with the people of Delhi and with Kejriwal."
TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu " who was one of the four chief ministers who held an unprecedented press conference in AAP's support on Saturday night " said that the "trend of using the governor's office for political benefits of the ruling party at the Centre goes against the spirit of the Constitution".
Actor-politicians praise Kejriwal
"Interference in the functioning of an elected government is unacceptable in a democracy," said Kamal Haasan on Twitter. "In fact, what is happening in Delhi and in TN/Pondicherry is not too different. It is frustrating for people who want a change for the better."
"Shotgun" Shatrughan Sinha, who has developed a reputation of being a BJP rebel, said: "Our dear friend, dynamic & most-talked-about Chief Minister of Delhi @ArvindKejriwal has certainly shown statesmanship and has appealed the officers to get back to work. He has moved two steps. Hope the so-called strike of the bureaucrats ends now. Jai Hind!"
He also expressed hope that the prime minister would intervene to ensure an end to the IAS officers' strike "It will be a good step by him for the people of Delhi and democracy at large. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," he added.
On the L-G's refusal to meet the four chief ministers he said: "This kind of blatant show of autocracy, despotism, autarchy and use of power...will only ridicule our party's image and give them tremendous sympathy of their followers. Just think about it and take it as 'food for thought' " consider the genuine demand of Arvind Kejriwal."
Actor Prakash Raj, too, expressed his support for Kejriwal and made a jibe at Modi in the same vein. "Dear supreme leader¦ We know you are busy with Fitbit challenge, yoga and EXERCISE, can you spare a minute and take a deep breath, look around, and instruct bureaucrats to work with Chief Minister Kejriwal...(who is actually doing a good job ) and EXERCISE your duty too."
The BJP's defence and IAS officers' denial
Unsurprisingly, the BJP has been spewing venom at Kejriwal and his party since they began their protest at the L-G's office on 11 June.
Two days after the dharna began, BJP leaders and AAP rebel leader Kapil Mishra mimicked their protest and sat on a dharna at Kejriwal's office against the "non-performance" of his government. "You have done everything in your power to shrug off any responsibility that comes with the position you hold, we are writing to you with a hope that you would have your conscience awakened to your moral responsibility," they said in a joint letter to Kejriwal.
BJP MP Subramanian Swamy even went to extent of calling the Delhi chief minister a "born Naxalite". He said: "He has nothing, he is all evaporated...This man is a Naxalite, he is a born Naxalite, he has been always hidden naxalite."
Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Monday said the AAP dharna was "destroying the trust the people of Delhi had put in them". "'Karne mein zero, dharne mein hero (AAP shows no results with its work, but is at the best at agitations," he added.
While the BJP continued to trivialise the AAP protest, IAS officers held a press conference to deny the cause that triggered their dharna to begin with. The IAS Officers' Association dismissed the allegation that they had not been working.
"We all had various experiences of assault. We will not attend a meeting if we are not feeling safe. We have gone out of the way to ensure that public do not suffer, their work does not suffer, but we will not work at the cost of our life.
IAS Association secretary Manisha Saxena " a divisional commissioner and secretary of arts, culture and languages " said they "don't feel safe" and "need a culture of trust to work". In response, Kejriwal assured them that he would do everything in his power to protect them.
Baijal's refusal to give them time even once in the past week has led many to question his dedication to work in the interest of the residents of Delhi, and unless forcibly removed, it seems unlikely that the AAP leaders will end their dharna anytime soon. With neither the lieutenant-governor nor the prime minister speaking up on the crisis in the National Capital, and now with the Delhi High Court's intervention in the political tussle, it's hard to tell which way the protest will head.