Firebrand Indian anti-corruption champion Arvind Kejriwal was clearing his desk yesterday after quitting as chief minister of Delhi in a move that leaves him clear to lead his party into battle in a looming general election.
Only 49 days after his upstart Aam Aadmi (“Common Man”) Party took power in India’s capital, Kejriwal resigned on Friday night when the country’s two main parties combined to thwart his efforts to bring in a new anti-corruption bill.
Kejriwal, whose stunning breakthrough in the Delhi state elections in December last year highlighted public anger toward the political establishment, launched a blistering assault on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in his resignation speech.
Indian Newspapers said his decision to quit so soon after taking power appeared part of a wider strategy which would free Kejriwal to lead his party’s campaign in a general election due by May.
The anti-corruption bill was the main plank of Kejriwal’s manifesto in the Delhi state election, the first campaign that his party had ever fought.
Although Aam Aadmi only won 28 of the 70 assembly seats, it was able to take power after the Indian Congress agreed to give it backing from outside.
However, Congress refused to support the Jan Lokpal bill, which included plans to set up an anti-corruption commission, in a vote on Friday on procedural grounds.
In his speech to supporters on Friday, the 45-year-old accused Congress of reneging on an earlier promise to back the bill.
“Congress had promised us, in writing, that they would support the bill, but when we tried to present it before the assembly yesterday, both they and the BJP came together to block it,” Kejriwal said. “This is the first time in India’s history that both the BJP and Congress have come together ... They have exposed themselves and shown their true face.”
In his typically fiery address, the former tax inspector also accused the two parties of taking orders from Mukesh Ambani, India’s wealthiest man, who heads the giant Reliance Industries conglomerate.
Although Kejriwal only formed his party a year ago, its remarkable showing in the Delhi election shocked India’s political establishment.
Congress, which has been badly damaged by a series of corruption scandals at national level, saw its number of seats slashed from 43 to just eight.