A common man who is doing uncommonly well
Delhi warms to Arvind Kejriwal, a new anti-corruption champion
At the swearing-in ceremony in Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal and his ministers wore caps with the slogan "I am the common man" (picture: AFP Photo/Prakash Singh)
When it comes Indian politics, dynasties still rule. Although nominally an independent democracy, India’s lawmaking system still operates feudally, with all power to the politicians and none to the man in the street.
But now an ordinary man with no political background is rattling the establishment and bringing a breath of fresh air to people who are gasping for a change from corruption.
Arvind Kejriwal took over as chief minister of New Delhi on December 28, with his newly formed Aaam Aadmi (common man) Party winning the state election over the Congress Party that had been incumbent for the last 15 years.
Following a crucial confidence vote on Thursday, which would have failed without the support of some individual Congress members, the Congress Party promised its allegiance and Kejriwal’s status is now confirmed as Delhi’s leader for the next five years.
His own party’s symbol is a broom, which expresses his determination to make sweeping changes.
“Kejriwal has introduced an element of change. He has de-jargonized Indian politics,” Chandrakant Naidu, a political analyst, told ucanews.com. “Even if the new party does not succeed, it has brought about a new approach to administration, making other political parties sit up and think.
“The change has come at a time when the voter is conscious of his rights. People wanted a change from corruption. They wanted someone who could listen to their woes and find solutions to them.”
A former income tax officer, Kejiriwal stepped into the limelight two years ago when he joined the renowned social activist Anna Hazare in his campaign against corruption in the country.
He later left Hazare, formed the AAP and embarked on a vigorous campaign, reaching out to the poorest of the poor and promising a clean, corruption-free government. It struck a chord with young people by presenting an accessible, simple, outward looking face.
“The party deserves a chance. Its leaders are young, active, have new ideas and talk about the development of the country, unlike other political leaders who are busy filling their own pockets,” Abhey Sharma, a Delhi businessman in his twenties, told ucanews.com.
Echoing his views, Ram Yadav, a rickshaw puller in the Seelampuri area of the city, said: “The new party is talking about the common man… people like us, our day-to-day problems. The leaders are going door to door to know the difficulties we face.”
Moving at a speed that is virtually unprecedented for an Indian political party, the new state government has acted in days to deliver on promises to supply free water to poor families and cut the cost of domestic electricity by half.
While previous chief ministers have taken the oath of office in the exclusive environs of the state assembly, Kejriwal was sworn in before hundreds and thousands of people at the Ramlila Maidan, a famous open area in the city.
Traveling by public transport to reach the venue, he promised to do away with luxury cars with flashing lights for ministers. Along with his own ministers at the ceremony, he wore a white Gandhi-style cap with the slogan “I am the common man.”
“We are here to serve the people and we should not forget that,” he said in his address to the massive crowd. “We fear the rising expectations of the people and I pray to God that we do not make mistakes.”
A long series of corruption scandals including the furore over the Commonwealth Games, inflation and lack of security for women in Delhi were among the factors that led to the Congress Party’s defeat.
But amid the optimism and celebrations, analyst Chandrakant Naidu issued a word of caution. “The promises made by the new party are appealing to the populace,” he said, “but they must start acting on them so that confidence in politicians is renewed.”
However, if the AAP does manage to sustain the performance and popularity it is currently enjoying, Naidu sees nothing to stop it pushing on and winning seats in the coming general elections. This really could be good news for the common man.
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