Delhi's grass-roots activist chief minister resigns

Only 49 days after his election

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The Independent Online

Just 49 days after he was elected as the chief minster of Delhi, an anti-corruption campaigner resigned from the post when his political opponents blocked a plan to introduce an official ombudsman for India’s capital.

Arvind Kejriwal, whose grass-roots Aam Aadmi party, or Common Man party, (AAP) stunned its rivals by seizing control of the Delhi state government after an election last November, said other parties were scared their members would be investigated if the ombudsman’s office was established.

“From here, I am now directly going to the Lieutenant-Governor’s office to hand over my resignation,” he told his cheering supporters in the centre of Delhi. “I wish I get a chance to serve the nation and the state soon.”

Mr Kejriwal’s resignation came after the Congress party, which backed his minority government, voted with the opposition to block the bill. He said on Friday he would recommend that new elections be held in Delhi.

“We might have done some mistakes. We are also human, but we tried our level best,” he announced.

Mr Kejriwal has led protests and hunger strikes against government corruption. They have included sit-ins demanding public access to government documents, lower electricity rates and the transfer of control of the local police from the federal government’s home ministry to his administration.

Supporters of Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, chief of the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP), listen to his speech (Reuters)

His campaign has earned him admiration from working people in the city and elsewhere in India, along with support from a considerable number of middle-class citizens who are exhausted with the country’s endemic corruption. Yet his critics have accused of being unwilling to govern and preferring instead to behave like the activist he has been for many years.

His party controls 27 of the 70 seats in the state legislature and the Congress party has eight. One politician recently quit Mr Kejriwal’s party following differences over implementation of various policies. The remaining seats are held by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Socialist Party legislators.

The showdown between Mr Kejriwal and the Congress party – which run the federal government - came over a 2002 federal home ministry order which said Delhi state government could only enact laws with financial implications with its approval. The Associated Press said Mr Kejriwal defied the order on Friday and sought to introduce the ombudsman bill in the state legislature, saying the order was arbitrary.

The evening drama, played out beneath a rare winter downpour, comes as India prepares for a general election. The ruling Congress party, led by Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul, is on the back foot and is expected to do very poorly. In turn, the front-runner is the BJP’s Narendra Modi.

But after its success in the Delhi state election, the AAP announced it would contest more than 300 seats in the general election. Some analysts have suggested the AAP could secure enough seats to blunt Mr Modi’s surge. One senior AAP official recently told The Independent the party expected to get at least 40 seats.

“Kejriwal’s resignation caps a tumultuous 49 day reign as chief minister of Delhi. It was perhaps the most eventful month and a half of any state government’s tenure in recent memory,” said Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“What remains to be seen is whether the Aam Aadmi Party can leverage this moment to connect with voters outside of the Delhi region. Polls suggest their reach, while growing, is still largely limited to the national capital region.”

Ashok Malik, a journalist and analyst based in Delhi, said that with the parliamentary polls taking place shortly, it would now depend on whether Mr Kejriwal could use the incident to his party's advantage. 

"In Kejriwal's perception, he's achieved what he craved -  martyrdom," he said. "He has two months to convince the country."