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Last laugh for team Shinde

New Delhi, Jan. 21: Sushil Kumar Shinde may have finally been able to afford an “R-Day smile” this evening, confident the parades would go on and satisfied that the lessons from the 2012 rape protests had been learnt.

Arvind Kejriwal called off his protest late in the evening after claiming that the demand for suspension of some police officers had been “partially met” by lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung.

Officials in North Block, where Union home minister Shinde’s office is located, flashed an I-told-you-so message. “We know he (Kejriwal) will be exposed and we are prepared to give him a long rope till the eleventh hour,” said a top source in the ministry hours before Kejriwal’s announcement ending the protest.

After that, the ministry declined comment on whether Kejriwal’s demands had been accepted. “The lieutenant governor and commissioner of police have resolved the issue,” the official said.

Shinde, he added, had been in touch with senior leaders and officials, including those in the Prime Minister’s Office, all through Kejriwal’s sit-in.

Shinde, who did not speak on the standoff in public, showed no signs of giving in to pressure and signalled that no action would be taken against the police officers without a probe.

Behind the scenes, his officers were at work, backed by an understanding of the ground situation. They drew on the lessons from the December 2012 rape protests when the VIP enclave was under siege from thousands of demonstrators. A cop died tackling them and several protesters were injured in alleged police action.

This time round, the authorities confined Kejriwal and his protesters to a small area. An “Island Plan” was put in place under which the protest was buttonholed to a spot near Rail Bhavan, half-a-kilometre from Rajpath where Republic Day parades are held.

All roads to the area were sealed, with hundreds of cops and paramilitary forces pressed in. Several Metro stations in central Delhi were shut.

Republic Day security is the responsibility of Delhi police, who clamp a three-tier security blanket in Lutyen’s Delhi. Snipers prowl building tops and multi-storeyed hotels close to Rajpath do not allow guests on higher floors.

Yesterday morning, intelligence agencies had suspected the protest would snowball and draw “lakhs”. By this morning, however, the security establishment was confident Kejriwal would not be able to disrupt Republic Day proceedings.

Only a few hundred supporters reached the venue. The police secured the area well before Thursday’s dress rehearsal.

Lieutenant governor Jung’s assurances to AAP leaders, too, did not embarrass the home minister as no officer was suspended as demanded by the protesters.

On the contrary, a belated disclosure appeared to draw a contrast between the Centre’s response now and an incident last year to send a message to Kejriwal.

A ministry source recalled a security breach that had occurred at Shinde’s residence in the area in April 2013. After that, the minister had ticked off then police chief Neeraj Kumar for not visiting his house, the source said, and confirmed that the officer had to later suspend an inspector, a sub-inspector and at least 10 constables over the breach.