NEW DELHI Delhi's chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his supporters launched a sit-in against the city police on Monday, creating traffic chaos and a standoff with hundreds of officers in the latest radical step by the anti-graft crusader who has shaken up a national election.
Baton-wielding police were deployed to prevent Kejriwal from taking his protest against alleged police inaction in crimes to the doors of the colonial-era headquarters of the home ministry.
Delhi's police are under the control of Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, an arrangement that has irked successive chief ministers. In most Indian states, local government controls law and order.
Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), took office in December after a stunning debut in a state election, and is now trying to build the party's presence before a national poll due by May.
On Monday he called on the public to join him in a ten-day protest to demand the police be transferred to his control. Critics say his demonstration was inviting chaos in one of India's most sensitive security areas, minutes away from parliament and the prime minister's office. It has led to those closure of five metro stations.
"Some say I am an anarchist, that I am spreading anarchy. I am willing to agree to that," Kejriwal told demonstrators, saying police inaction against crime spread chaos.
"So, today I want to spread that anarchy to Shinde's home too. I have come to spread anarchy in the police commissioner's house too."
Later supporters scuffled with police.
Delhi police, widely seen as corrupt and ineffective, were the focus of public fury last year after a December gang rape and murder highlighted how dangerous the city had become for women.
Kerjiwal's supporters say that recent cases, including police reaction to the alleged rape of a Danish woman and another attack on a woman last week, are examples of failures.
Political rivals and some former allies have accused the one-time tax-collector of irresponsible governance and "mobocracy".
"If a chief minister sits on a protest, who will run the government?" asked Meem Afzal, a spokesman for the Congress party, which leads the central government's coalition.
In a dramatic first few weeks of city government, Kejriwal slashed prices of public utilities and faced a near stampede at a political meeting when thousands turned up to seek solutions to their grievances.
On Monday, Kejriwal appeared to settle in to his new open-air office, receiving government files at the protest site to continue his official work.
The latest row began after Delhi's law minister was filmed arguing with police during a night raid in a neighbourhood popular with African immigrants. Police refused to search a house the minister claimed was being used as a brothel, saying they did not have a warrant to go in.
"It is about accountability," said AAP national secretary Pankaj Gupta. "Who is accountable for these things?"
(Reporting by Sruthi Gottipati and Malini Menon; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel: Editing by Alistair Scrutton)