India’s anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal announced Monday he would head a state government for New Delhi in a stunning breakthrough for his fledgling party just months before a general election.
The former tax official is set to become chief minister in a minority administration after his Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party won the second highest number of seats in the state assembly polls earlier this month.
The Congress party, which is in power at national level and ran New Delhi for years before being trounced in the state elections, said it would provide support for a Kejriwal-led government but would not join it.
“The people of Delhi want us to form the government. We are ready to form the government,” he told reporters, as elsewhere AAP supporters danced in celebration and waved brooms — the party’s symbol for a clean sweep of graft-ridden politics.
Although the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the most seats in the assembly, it has declined to form government without a majority, in the fortnight since the results were announced.
Aam Aadmi won 28 of the 70 seats in the assembly, trouncing Congress whose share slumped to eight. The BJP, which is expected to come out on top in a general election due in May, won 31 seats and a BJP ally took one.
Kejriwal had been wary of accepting support from either Congress or the BJP, given that many voters cited the two parties’ record on corruption as their reason for siding with Aam Aadmi.
But an Aam Aadmi official said that 74 percent of supporters who took part in an informal poll had endorsed the idea of it forming a government.
The party, born out of an anti-corruption movement that swept India two years ago, has tapped into anger about everyday graft as well as scandals that have embroiled the national government.
Kejriwal, 44, only started the party a year ago but has indicated that he wants to field candidates across the country in the general election.
Although analysts say his party has no chance of winning at national level given its lack of finance and infrastructure, the showing in Delhi has underlined its potential to damage the BJP and Congress when the world’s biggest democracy goes to the polls.
Kejriwal pledged in its manifesto this month to send corrupt politicians to jail and end the VIP culture of Delhi’s political elite.
He has also promised to slash power prices for Delhi families by cracking down on falsely inflated bills and give households 700 litres of free water a month — promises critics have dismissed as extravagant and unrealistic.
“We will start working (on our promises) immediately. The job of any government is to provide good governance and we are confident of living up to our pre-poll promises,” AAP spokeswoman Shazia Ilmi told AFP.
Chandra Mohan Sharma, an AAP supporter who turned out to hear Kejriwal’s announcement Monday, said unlike the major parties Aam Aadmi would never let the common people down.
“They (AAP) just have to remove the middlemen and change the corrupt system and prices will come down automatically,” said Sharma, 45.
Former chief minister Sheila Dikshit, who oversaw Congress’s defeat in the polls, said her party would give “issue-based support from outside” to Kejriwal’s administration in Delhi.
“We are not going to be a part of the government,” she told NDTV news network.
The BJP slammed Kejriwal’s decision to form the government with support from Congress, accusing it of hypocrisy.
“The AAP has been accusing the Congress of being the most corrupt party in the whole world. And now just for the sake of attaining power, they have compromised with the same corrupt Congress,” said Harsh Vardhan, the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate for Delhi.
The Congress-led national government has been hit by a string of major corruption scandals, ranging from allegations of illegal distribution of cut-price telecom licences to the 2010 graft-tainted Commonwealth Games.