Public Backlash Forces New Delhi Chief into Embarrassing Protest Climbdown

Arvind Kejriwal ends his much-criticized sit-in outside the Indian Parliament to demand police reform after criticism from voters and media

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Tsering Topgyal / AP

A supporter flashes a victory sign as New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, center, announces calling off a demonstration against the police in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014.

New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called off his ten-day street protest on Tuesday evening after an appeal from Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung, the central government’s representative in the Indian capital.

Kejriwal, the head of the Aam Aadmi Part (AAP), had been leading an unprecedented and much criticized sit-in near the Indian Parliament since Monday. He was demanding the suspension of three police officials who had run-ins with his ministers. The government agreed to partially meet his demands and dispatched two of the officers on leave.

The face-saving deal, many say, was the perfect escape for Kejriwal, whose eccentric actions had not gone down well with ordinary people in the sprawling Indian capital.

His two-day demonstration had snarled traffic in the city, forced the shutdown of major metro stations and would have disrupted India’s grand Republic Day parade on Sunday, adversely affecting his standing among the Indian middle classes.

The sit-in, which trended on social media with #AAPdrama, included Kejriwal sleeping on the pavement on Monday night. But even then only some 1,000 people gathered at his protest site.

Likely surprised by the hostile reaction, Kejriwal gladly called off the protest despite the central government rejecting his greater demand for police reform. He originally wanted control of New Delhi Police, which presently answers to the federal home ministry, to be transferred to the state government.

India’s vibrant media was similarly scathing. The Times of India noted that the absence of middle class supporters and women, “was already indicating that the AAP support base was shrinking.”

“It’s been a depressing, frenetic slide downhill as Arvind Kejriwal has morphed from, arguably, India’s #1 role model to India’s #1 Known Delinquent,” writes Anant Rangaswami in an opinion piece for the First Post.