Arvind Kejriwal’s first Janta Durbar on Saturday may have been a bit of a flop show, but the event attracted thousands of people not just from the National Capital Region (NCR) but also from Bihar, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh who came hoping that the new Delhi chief minister would help solve problems in their state.
What the flop of the first Dilli Durbar shows is that the direct democracy experiments of Kejriwal may boomerang on him. BJP quickly called it a political stunt and pointed at the impossibility of holding a durbar like this in a city of 1.6 crore people.
Kejriwal however has plans to continue with his direct contact programme and has promised to streamline it next time. This flop show will serve as a reality check for Kejriwal as he tried to change the format of governance.
People came from far and wide. Ravinder Kumar from Bihar had come to meet the chief minister and congratulate him, while Shiv Narayan, a resident of Madhya Pradesh, hoped Kejriwal would help with his ration card and ensure development in his block.
Then there was Utsav Singh — son of political activist Hari Singh, now serving a life sentence in Tihar for hijacking an Indian Airlines flight in March 1993 — and his siblings. Singh had hijacked the Chennai-bound flight and wanted to take it to Lahore but was persuaded to surrender in Amritsar by the then Punjab police chief KPS Gill. “My father is not a criminal; he’s just a human being who made a mistake in anger. We came here to meet the chief minister but failed to meet him. I even wrote a letter to him... But I am still to get a reply,” Utsav Singh said.
The complainants, who had turned up in thousands, had grievances ranging from low water pressure in their area to inflated power bills.
A majority was contractual employees working in various government organisation such as the Delhi Transport Corporation, power distribution company BSES, Delhi Metro, Delhi Development Authority, Municipal Corporations of Delhi, Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation and government hospitals.
Kejriwal assured them that a decision on their demand for a permanent job would be taken in a week. “I will write to all departments, asking for a detailed report on the employees working on contract within a week,” he said.
Kejriwal’s Janta Durbar ended in a near stampede because of the state government’s mismanagement and inability to foresee the numbers that would turn up.
According to a senior Delhi government official, around 5,000 people turned up by 9.30am at the venue — the street outside the Delhi secretariat.
Fazed by the numbers, Kejriwal called off the durbar after meeting just two dozen people. “On the suggestion of the Delhi police, the chief minister returned to the office after witnessing a stampede-like situation. He left after 50 minutes,” a senior Delhi government official said.
The chief minister apologised for his government’s mishandling of the Janta Durbar. “Had I not left, there would have been a stampede,” Kejriwal said. He said he would hold the Durbar again in three-four days, but after making proper arrangements. We will streamline the system... I will sit with officers and make necessary arrangements,” Kejriwal said.
Delhi’s PWD minister Manish Sisodia said: “The way we are receiving complaints, it seems as if employees at the ground level aren’t doing their work.”
On Thursday, the chief minister announced that he and his cabinet ministers would sit outside their offices at the Delhi secretariat every Saturday, and one minister would sit every day of the week, to hear peoples’ grievances and try to solve them.
The BJP’s Delhi unit criticised the Delhi chief minister and his ministers for humiliating people in the name of Janta Durbar. Delhi BJP president Vijay Goel said: “Not even a single complaint was tackled as hundreds waited. This is a political stunt. Any person with common sense should know that holding an open public hearing is not feasible in a city of 1.6 crore people. If AAP was really serious about public hearings it would have held it in every department, at the assembly level and within the secretariat too.”