NEW DELHI – The fiery leader of India’s capital lashed out at the New Delhi police on Monday, accusing the force of targeting the poor for petty offences but refusing to combat serious crime.
New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who took office in December on a promise to sweep out corruption and look after the common man, led a protest by hundreds of supporters against the city’s police force.
Kejriwal is widely believed to have his eye on control over the city’s police, which reports to the federal government, as well as national elections, expected by May. His upstart Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man’s Party, did surprisingly well in the state elections last month by tapping into public disgust over corruption amid a steady stream of scandals.
He blasted the police for taking money from rickshaw drivers for minor offences, but doing little to fight lawlessness — including ignoring the rampant drug and sex trade.
“No drug racket can flourish in Delhi without the knowledge of the police,” Kejriwal told his supporters at a rally around the Home Ministry, despite a police ban on public gatherings in the area. “We want to put an end to this and make the Delhi police accountable to the people of the city.”
He invited all the city’s residents to join in the protest, which he said would continue for 10 days. Authorities asked Kejriwal to hold the protest at a plaza in central Delhi where the public will be less inconvenienced. But he refused to comply with the police request to move his protest and appeared to be hunkering down for the night.
The clash started when the Delhi police refused a demand by Delhi’s Law Minister Somnath Bharti — a key Kejriwal aide — to arrest two Ugandan and two Nigerian women. Bharti led a night raid on the homes of the African women last week and accused them of selling drugs. But the police refused to make the arrests, saying they had no warrant.
That night raid prompted African embassies to lodge strong protests with India’s Ministry of External Affairs and demanded an inquiry. Ministry officials held a meeting with around 20 African ambassadors on Friday to assure them that the government would ensure the security of all foreigners. In recent years, tens of thousands of Africans have moved to India in search of education and jobs.
A top ministry official condemned the raid, calling it “an aberration, an isolated incident.” He said there was no targeting of nationals of any country in India.
Kejriwal’s street protest was slammed by both the ruling Congress Party and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party as a political gimmick.
Federal Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said an investigation had been ordered into last week’s raid and asked Kejriwal to be patient.
The protest affected many commuters in the capital, with at least four subway stations near the protest site closed, roads blocked and work at several government buildings disrupted.