Anindito Mukherjee/ReutersArvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister, waving to supporters during a rally in New Delhi on Jan. 20 in which he criticized the city’s police force for failing to protect women.
NEW DELHI — The heart of India’s capital came to a standstill on Monday after Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi chief minister, and members of his Aam Aadmi Party squared off with the central government in a public demonstration to demand that the Delhi police should be under state, not federal, control.
As Delhi police officers barricaded the roads in central Delhi, Mr. Kejriwal also called on all residents to join him in a 10-day protest against the Delhi Police Department for failing to protect women. In a speech, he contended that the state government would be better at running the city’s police force, which he criticized as corrupt and inefficient under the central government’s administration.
The standoff began early on Monday when seven lawmakers from the Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, Party, led by Mr. Kejriwal, headed out to the Home Ministry, which oversees the Delhi police, to demand the resignations of three station house officers who they said had failed to protect women in three reported cases: a gang rape of a Danish tourist, the burning of a woman over a lack of dowry and an alleged prostitution racket.
However, they were prevented by the Delhi police from staging a protest in front of the ministry. The ministry, headed by Sushil Kumar Shinde, had issued a prohibitory order against the demonstration, citing a law that forbids the gathering of more than five people.
The Delhi police shut down four subway stops in central Delhi and set up barricades to seal off the North Block, which houses the Home Ministry and other government offices nearby. Chaotic scenes played out as a heavy contingent of police officials surrounded Mr. Kejriwal and Aam Aadmi ministers and kept them at the railway building, known as Rail Bhavan.
When the Aam Aadmi leaders realized they would not be allowed to reach the Home Ministry, Mr. Kejriwal decided to urge the public to join him at Rail Bhavan to demand that the central government hand over control of the Delhi police to the state government.
In a speech, he accused Mr. Shinde of being corrupt and called on the “honest” police officials to take off their uniforms and join the side of the common man. The Aam Aadmi Party has accused the Delhi police of allowing a drug and prostitution ring allegedly run by four Ugandan woman to fester. Last week, the state’s law minister, Somnath Bharti of Aam Aadmi, demanded that the police arrest the four women during a midnight raid on their house, but the officers refused, citing the lack of a warrant and a lack of evidence.
“No sex or drug racket can take place without complicity of police,” Mr. Kejriwal said.
While women’s rights activists and political opponents have accused Mr. Bharti of racism, his party has backed his actions. On Monday, Mr. Kejriwal held up a letter he said was from the Uganda High Commission, stating that several girls from Uganda being brought into India on the promise of work and education were being trafficked. But Syed Akbaruddin, the External Affairs Ministry spokesman, said the Uganda High Commission denied sending any such letter.
So far, the central government has refused to meet any of Mr. Kejriwal’s demands. Mr. Shinde said Monday that action would only be taken after a judicial inquiry against the three police officers was completed. He also said that security of the capital was too vital to be delegated to the Delhi government.
Maxwell Pereira, former joint police commissioner in Delhi, said the chaos and sheer numbers of the Aam Aadmi demonstration were a security threat to the capital, especially in the run-up to Republic Day on Jan. 26. He also said that the chief minister was himself breaking the law by staging the protest, which has been prohibited.
Mr. Kejriwal’s criticism of Mr. Shinde has put the Aam Aadmi’s coalition partner in the state government, the Congress Party, in an awkward position because the home minister is a Congress member. But though it opposed the Aam Aadmi rally, the Congress Party said Monday that it would not withdraw its support to the party.
Mr. Kejriwal’s political rivals immediately criticized the Aam Aadmi Party for the disruption to the city, saying that Mr. Kejriwal should act like a statesman and stop shouting on the streets as he did when he was an anticorruption activist.
“Did the AAP form a government to wreck the system from within?” Arun Jaitley, senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, said on Twitter, referring to Aam Aadmi.
Responding to critics who called him an anarchist, Mr. Kejriwal said, “Yes, I am. Today, I will spread anarchy in the house of Mr. Shinde, the same way he has spread anarchy in our households.”
The closure of the subway stations inconvenienced commuters in the morning, and the road closures snarled city traffic at night. Sibi Arasu, 26, who had been unaware of the subway closures, said it was annoying to look for alternative modes of transportation in the morning. Mr. Arasu, a media professional, said he was 20 minutes late after taking an auto-rickshaw for 40 rupees, or 65 U.S. cents,one way — a cost that could get expensive if the protests continued for 10 days, he said.
In the afternoon, despite growing concerns of the Delhi police over security near government buildings, Mr. Kejriwal refused to move the protest to another location. By late afternoon, the number of Aam Aadmi members began to swell, and some began scuffling with Delhi police officers, whose numbers were also growing.The party said in a statement said that the state transport minister, Saurabh Bhardwaj, was detained and another lawmaker, Akhilesh Tripathi, was beaten up.
By evening, even as it was getting colder and darker, the crowds were growing at Rail Bhavan, many to support Aam Aadmi, but about 20 were there to protest Mr. Bharti’s treatment of the Ugandan women.
And as people got ready to return home from work, the city was struck by long traffic jams, prompting many taxi and auto-rickshaw passengers to get out and walk to their destinations.
By 10 p.m., Mr. Kejriwal was still sitting outside Rail Bhavan, surrounded by his supporters.
Betwa Sharma is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi.