Arvind Kejriwal speaks with the media after his meeting with the Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung in New Delhi yesterday.
Anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal announced yesterday 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 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 main opposition 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.
AAP 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 its ally Akali Dal took one.
Kejriwal earlier in the day met Lt Governor Najeeb Jung and staked his claim to assume office. Without specifying a date, Kejriwal said he and his ministers would take oath at the sprawling Ramlila Maidan in the heart of Delhi.
The Ramlila ground is where social activist Anna Hazare’s 12-day fast in 2011 for a Jan Lokpal triggered mass solidarity protests across India. Kejriwal and Hazare were together then but have since fallen out.
A confident Kejriwal later asserted that the AAP had the legislative majority to rule Delhi.
“We are in a majority and we will form the government,” he said, without specifically mentioning the critical support of the eight Congress legislators. “Let the opposition pass a no-confidence motion.”
And quick to get down to business, Kejriwal conducted a “training session” for his 27 fellow legislators, some of whom had never had a brush with politics until the AAP decided to contest elections.
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 AAP.
But an AAP official said that 74% 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 the party’s 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 daily - 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 said.
Chandra Mohan Sharma, an AAP supporter who turned out to hear Kejriwal’s announcement yesterday, 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.
The party has tapped into a growing middle-class anger towards India’s politicians, who are often perceived to be siphoning off public funds instead of providing public services.
Its success in Delhi is an alarm bell for the Congress and the BJP ahead of next year’s election, underlining that an increasingly young and urban electorate is fed up.
“The main thing (about AAP) is that they are different. Most of the political parties put up criminals as candidates and most of them just get into politics for money,” said Nikhil Ramdev, a 19-year-old law student from west Delhi.
“It’s a business for them. People are getting more and more frustrated. That’s why a first-time party got so many votes.”
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.
AAP betrayed the people, says BJP
The Bharatiya Janata Party yesterday accused the Aam Aadmi Party of “betraying the people of Delhi” after its leader Arvind Kejriwal said he would form a minority government with the outside support of the Congress.
Harsh Vardhan, the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, said that by aligning with the Congress, the AAP has proved that they were hungry for power.
“The AAP fought the election on the anti-corruption plank and now they have taken support from a party that has been completely rejected by the people of Delhi. This proves that AAP is hungry for power,” Vardhan said.
“This is a betrayal of the wishes of the people of Delhi,” he added.
The BJP emerged as the single largest party with 31 seats, but fell short of a majority in the 70-member house. The AAP stood second with 28 seats while the Congress took the third spot with just eight seats.
After the BJP decided not to form the government, the AAP told Delhi Lt Governor Najeeb Jung that it needed 10 days’ time to decide its course of action. The AAP then held what it called a referendum to ask people whether it should form a minority government.
Criticising the AAP for holding the referendum, Vardhan said the opinion of a few hundred cannot supersede the mandate of millions of people.
“Around 70% of the people of Delhi had given their mandate and chosen their representative and now you go out on streets and ask some hundreds of people to give a mandate that is an insult to the real dimension of democracy,” the BJP leader said.
Meanwhile, former chief minister Sheila Dikshit gave her “best wishes” to the AAP and asked the party to fulfil the promises it made to the people.
“Our best wishes to them to fulfil their promises. We gave outside support to them to form (a) government and will continue to give support till they fulfil the promises,” Dikshit said.
“We know the promises are difficult to fulfill,” said Dikshit, who was defeated by Kejriwal in her New Delhi constituency by over 25,000 votes.
When he takes oath, Kejriwal will become Delhi’s seventh chief minister.
The city got its first chief minister in 1952 in Chaudhary Brahm Prakash of the Congress. He remained in office until 1955.
He was succeeded by party colleague G N Singh, who served until 1956.
That year, Delhi ceased to be a state and became a centrally administered union territory.
During this time, the president of India was directly responsible for the capital’s administration through the Lt Governor.
Elections to the Delhi assembly were again held in 1993, when the BJP’s Madan Lal Khurana came to power. He bowed out in 1996.
He was followed by BJP’s Saheb Singh Verma (1996-98) and Sushma Swaraj, who held office for just over a month before elections were called in November 1998.
Bhushan uncertain over govt tenure
Aam Aadmi Party leader Prashant Bhushan yesterday said he was uncertain about the tenure of the minority government, considering the past record of the Congress which has decided to support it. Bhushan said AAP with 28 seats in the 70-member assembly has decided to form the government after receiving opinions from people, but he suspects the Congress which has given outside support with its eight legislators. “Given the past track record of the Congress, I don’t expect that our government will survive long... one month, four months or six months, it is to be seen,” Bhushan said. He said even though it will be a minority government, “we are prepared not to accept any condition by Congress or BJP. We will be faithfully implementing our agenda and our manifesto promises. We are not forming the government given the fact that it may for a certain period of time.” Bhushan also said the AAP was forming the government to show the people of the country that there are different ways of running a government than what is being practised by the Congress and the BJP. He said it was possible to run a government on the basis of people’s opinions and their views.