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Kejriwal under siege, within and without

New Delhi, Jan. 15: A party born out of a campaign for an instant Lokpal bill is balking at the “aam aadmi’s” demands for instant solutions and battling attacks from within, less than a month into power.

Aam aadmi yahan hai, Kejriwal kahan hai? (The common man is here, where is Kejriwal),” the question rang out again and again outside the Delhi secretariat today where small clusters of protesters sat on dharna from morning to evening.

Arvind Kejriwal, the Aam Aadmi Party chief minister who has catapulted from street protests to politics, was holed up inside the secretariat holding meetings.

He found time in between to respond to party colleague Vinod Kumar Binny, who this morning threatened to “unmask” the chief minister and reveal “startling” details of the AAP’s working at a news conference tomorrow.

But it was hours before he came out to meet a group of contract teachers asking for permanent jobs, another group of paramedical staff working with the National Rural Health Mission who had the same demand and a group of farmers from the city’s outskirts who were opposing arbitrary accession of unused farmland by the government.

MLA Binny, who came to the AAP from the Congress and defeated former minister A.K. Walia from Laxmi Nagar in east Delhi, alleged today the Kejriwal government was not keeping its promises and straying from its core values.

The chief minister hit back, accusing Binny of eyeing a Lok Sabha ticket. “First he approached me for a cabinet berth and now he wants to fight the Lok Sabha polls,” he said, adding that Binny should have spoken up at the party’s meeting yesterday if he had a problem.

Binny retaliated. “I had joined AAP because I thought they are honest…. All these claims about me asking for cabinet berth are baseless. He is lying,” he said.

The MLA further said he went to the media after failed attempts to speak to Kejriwal. “I had asked for time to meet him. Instead of giving me a proper appointment, I was told that I could travel with him in his car after the party meeting,” Binny said.

This is not the first time the MLA has spoken out against Kejriwal. On December 26, two days before the swearing-in, he had threatened to hold an “all-revealing” news conference but did not.

Binny claims that AAP leader Sanjay Singh and Kumar Vishwas had met him. “They asked for 15 days to solve my problems, but that never happened,” he said. At that time Kejriwal had denied there was any dissent.

Today, however, there was more than one voice of dissent. Tina Sharma, who joined the AAP from the BJP on December 27, alleged that the party that is inviting applications for Lok Sabha tickets has already finalised some nominees. “Five Lok Sabha names of Delhi are final. Shazia Ilmi, Ashutosh, Gopal Rai, Dilip Pandey, Ashish Talwar. So why ask people to fill forms?” she said.

Outside the secretariat, the charge that the AAP was not living up to its promise echoed.

The farmers sitting on dharna in the Delhi cold said the government wasn’t paying them heed. The previous Congress government had scrapped the section under which farmland unused for three years could be confiscated, they said. “We are sitting in protest because even though this provision has been scrapped, SDMs (sub-divisional magistrates) are still harassing us. What is the AAP doing about it?” Dharam Pal Singh, a protester asked.

The farmers left after Kejriwal came out and spoke to them around 3pm.

But the teachers and the health workers continued to sit on dharna till late evening, unhappy with Kejriwal’s response.

The chief minister had asked the teachers to give him at least a month or two to sort out the issue. But served a notice that their tenure would end on May 10, the teachers wanted redress on the spot. Kejriwal said decisions could not be taken in a hurry.

“The AAP government was elected on the promise that they will give us permanent jobs. The chief minister reiterated this assurance last week from the secretariat’s rooftop. It has been over a week, but other than empty assurances nothing has been done,” said Preeti Dangar, one of the protesters.