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Gloves off as AAP unease mounts in Cong

New Delhi, Jan. 22: The Congress today formally expressed “disappointment” with Arvind Kejriwal and asked him “to govern instead of indulging in theatrics”, the words capping growing unease at the decision to support his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

While sharp differences remained among senior Congress leaders on how to deal with the AAP, a public denouncement by finance minister P. Chidambaram of the decision to prop up the Kejriwal government was seen as a sign of the anger at what some described as a “stupid mistake”.

A senior Congress leader asserted it “would be foolish to presume that the AAP was only harming the BJP”. “When we should have used our energies to fight the AAP, we gifted them political clout that would be deployed to finish us.”

The party veteran underscored his sense of dismay with Kejriwal’s two-day chaotic protest by saying the Delhi chief minister would have “had the entire Union cabinet” arrested if police were under his government, a key demand that drove the AAP demonstrations.

“Now we know how wise our leaders were. Had Delhi police been under Kejriwal, he would have arrested the entire Union cabinet and the Prime Minister. Ironically, we support these forces.”

Many others felt the Congress should begin to explore the right opportunity to pull down the AAP government. But some still believed the best way to expose the AAP was to let it rule and unravel on its own.

The party’s official line, articulated by spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, indicated a readiness to tighten the screws on the Kejriwal government.

“The organisers of the dharna should realise that governance requires a sense of responsibility and commitment to the rule of law. There is no space for theatrics and drama and use of language that is abusive and intimidating. There is no space for flagrant violation of the rule of law. They (AAP leaders) should introspect how their actions troubled the common people of Delhi and threatened the Republic Day function.”

Surjewala thanked the Centre, particularly home minister Sushil Shinde and Delhi lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung, for their “maturity and administrative acumen” in defusing the crisis.

Asked about the “victory” claimed by Kejriwal when he called off his protest last evening, Surjewala said: “We are not here to claim victory. We are disappointed with the AAP’s conduct.”

There was speculation in some circles that the Centre should not have given any face-saver to Kejriwal and forced his eviction for the Republic Day preparations but others felt a peaceful formula was always preferable to a violent clean-up.

Surjewala said in response to a question that it was up to Kejriwal to take a decision on his AAP colleague Somnath Bharti. “It is for the chief minister to take a call on what action should be taken,” the Congress leader said, asked about the Delhi law minister’s conduct and whether he should be arrested after an African-origin woman told police that a mob led by him had barged into her house last week.

Others in the Congress suggested they would keep mounting pressure for action against Bharti — seen a key cause of the protest and the showdown.

Congress ally NCP took a tougher stand, describing AAP leaders as “symbols of arrogance” and predicting that its government would lose credibility soon.

“If Kejriwal has the courage and the guts, he will write a single-line letter to Congress to withdraw its support to his government,” NCP spokesperson D.P. Tripathi said. He said AAP leaders lacked “decency, decorum and morality”.

Tripathi said neither home minister Shinde in particular nor the Centre in general did anything wrong while dealing with the AAP’s protests. The only fault was that of Delhi police — for having failed so far to arrest Bharti, the “lawless law minister” of Delhi, the NCP leader said.

Tripathi took exception to Kejriwal’s attacks on Shinde. He quipped that in Kejriwal’s case, chief minister stood for “chosen madness”. Asked what if the AAP boss became PM, the NCP leader remarked that it would be “permanent madness”.