|Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal runs into a thicket of petitions at the janata durbar outside the Delhi secretariat on Saturday; (above) Kejriwal, who went inside midway through the session, later appears on the roof and appeals to the people to disperse and return once the process is streamlined. Pictures by Ramakant Kushwaha
He advanced to the council-table:
And, “Please your honours,” said he, “I’m able,
“By means of a secret charm, to draw
“All creatures living beneath the sun,
“That creep or swim or fly or run,
“After me so as you never saw!…
“And people call me the Pied Piper.”
(And here they noticed round his neck a scarf of red and yellow stripe…)
The Pied Piper of Hamelin
New Delhi, Jan. 11: The signature muffler round his neck, the Pied Piper of Petitions today drew hordes of not “creatures that do people harm” but people who feel harmed.
Infirm men leaning on walking sticks, women in salwar suits and sneakers, youngsters holding placards and banners — all seeking redress from chief minister Arvind Kejriwal waiting on the kerb outside the Delhi secretariat.
Then the system against the system crashed, overwhelmed by the very force it had unchained.
So unmanageable was the turnout — over 7,000 by the official count — that Kejriwal had to quit the Delhi chief minister’s maiden janata durbar within an hour for fear of being trampled and take refuge within the secretariat walls.
A little over an hour later, he appeared on the rooftop of the secretariat to placate the restive crowd. He announced that the durbar would be put on hold till the process was streamlined a little. The original proposal was to have a daily durbar presided over by one minister and a Saturday session attended by Kejriwal and his cabinet.
“There have been lapses in our arrangement, I apologise for it. We should have prepared for several thousands. I had to leave because many people were climbing on my table and, at one point, I felt that I myself could have been trampled,” Kejriwal said from the rooftop.
In the evening, Kejriwal tweeted: “Despite all the chaos today, 2582 grievances registered. Govt has started working on their redressal.”
The inevitable Twitter toots followed soon enough. Kiran Bedi, Kejriwal’s old colleague and lately an admirer of Narendra Modi, tweeted: “For God’s sake, Arvind and Team, Secretariats are not run from Roof Tops! Pl take time to listen/absorb! And then take considered decisions!”
Bedi is missing the point.
Time is running out on “considered decisions” — that was the message the crowd was delivering above the din.
Several of the problems were beyond the domain of a chief minister to mitigate. But those who braved the chill to queue up in the morning were giving the clearest indication yet that their patience was wearing thin and every straw within reach would be clutched at.
From 5am, the trickle had begun. By 9.30am, chaos set in as there were no queues or clear information about which way to head to reach the chief minister and his team.
Most complainants had come in groups, many holding aloft banners. A sizeable number were contract employees working with various government agencies and demanding permanent jobs. Kejriwal assured them that he would write to all department heads and find out why contract employees could not be offered permanent positions. “I am only asking you to give me one month to try and sort out the issue,” he said.
There were also complainants from afar — such as some Malayali families of patients being treated at AIIMS — who hoped Kejriwal would be able to influence their state governments.
Rajni, a 42-year-old homemaker from Uttar Pradesh, explained why state boundaries did not matter. “My land in Agra has been encroached upon and no one is listening to my pleas. I took an overnight train and arrived here at 4 am. If the chief minister wants, he can get work done by the Prime Minister also. I hope I will be heard.”
Along with hope came the stirrings of despair. A petition for resuming scholarship for the visually and physically challenged was accepted by minister Rakhi Birla from S.K. Rungta, the senior general secretary of the National Federation of Blind. “We got acknowledgement receipts from earlier governments too. Kejriwal had promised on-the-spot decision. In such crowds, that is not possible,” Rungta said.
Kejriwal reached the venue by 9.30am but in less than an hour, retreated into the secretariat, ringed by guards. But his colleagues, social justice minister Girish Soni and law minister Somnath Bharati, remained with the crowd till the end.
Shortly after 10.30am, as word spread that Kejriwal had left, the crowd grew restive. “This government is all about theatrics and less work,” said 44-year-old Anita Jha, a Delhi homemaker.
Around 11.30am, when the crowd showed no signs of dispersing, Kejriwal appeared from behind the secretariat gates. Immediately, the crowd surged towards him, almost everyone waving complaint lists. Kejriwal collected a few and proceeded to the rooftop.
They heard him out patiently as he apologised for the lapses in arrangement.
Kejriwal later said five categories would be introduced — complaints on ration cards and government schemes; those that need a change of policy; miscellaneous grievances; suggestions; and non-government issues.
So, Willy, let me and you be wipers
Of scores out with all men — especially pipers!
And, whether they pipe us free from rats or from mice,
If we’ve promised them aught, let us keep our promise!
The Pied Piper of Hamelin