Indians eye change as antigraft activist takes helm in Delhi


Sun, Dec 29, 2013 - Page 6

Anticorruption champion Arvind Kejriwal was yesterday sworn in as chief minister of India’s National Capital Region, in what supporters hope will mark a turning point in the country’s graft-ridden politics.

Huge cheers rang out as Kejriwal, who arrived for the ceremony on the New Delhi subway, took the oath office in front of tens of thousands of supporters assembled in a park wearing white caps emblazoned with the activist’s slogan: “I am a common man.”

“I will do my duties as a minister honestly, without any fear or bias,” Kejriwal said.

Cries of “Long live the Aam Admi [common man] Party” and “Mother India” rang out from the sea of supporters, while some waived placards reading: “Today Delhi, tomorrow the country.”

Police estimates of the crowd ranged as high as 100,000.

Kejriwal’s upstart Aam Admi Party made a stunning electoral debut, winning 28 assembly seats in recent state polls and delivering a stinging defeat to the ruling Indian National Congress Party.

“It is the common man’s victory,” Kejriwal said before taking the subway to the ceremony — an unprecedented move among Indian dignitaries.

The former tax inspector’s decision to use public transport echoes his pre-poll promise to end the VIP culture of Delhi’s political elite and set a down-to-earth tone for his new administration.

No dignitaries were formally invited to the Ramlila Maidan grounds where Kejriwal took his oath. The site is considered ground zero of India’s corruption movement, where some of the biggest rallies against a string of government graft scandals were held two years ago.

The rookie Aam Admi Party’s symbol is a broom, to underline its commitment to sweeping away India’s culture of bribery and corruption that critics say has become endemic in all parts of life.

Kejriwal has vowed to abolish the culture of privilege surrounding New Delhi’s politicians.

Unlike his predecessors, Kejriwal, whose backers range from taxi drivers and teachers to business proprietors and servants, has said he and his ministers will not occupy the sprawling bungalows built by India’s former British colonial rulers. Kejriwal plans to keep living in his fourth-story flat.

Kejriwal came to national prominence as an adviser to elderly social activist Anna Hazare, whose anticorruption drive galvanized the country in 2011.

Kejriwal founded his own party after the two men fell out over strategy. Hazare believed the antigraft fight should stay non-partisan, while Kejriwal felt he should enter the electoral fray.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, tipped to win general elections due by May, came first with 31 seats in the Delhi polls, but was short of a majority. Kejriwal will govern with outside support from the Congress Party, which was reduced to eight seats.

Kejriwal initially refused to team up with the ruling party, which he had denounced as brazenly corrupt, but bowed to a flood of e-mails and text messages from Delhi citizens urging him to form a government.