NEW DELHI – Anti-corruption champion Arvind Kejriwal Saturday rode the subway to his swearing-in ceremony as the chief minister of Delhi, in what supporters hope will be a watershed moment in India’s graft-ridden politics.
Kejriwal was greeted by thousands of cheering supporters and a clutch of microphones and television cameras when he emerged from his apartment in a suburb of the city of 16 million.
“This is the fight for independence from corruption, hunger and poverty,” he said. “It is the common man’s victory. Action will start as soon as we take the oath.”
Thousands of supporters gathered at the Ramlila Maidan in central Delhi ahead of the oath ceremony waving Indian flags.
The public ground is where some of the biggest rallies against a string of government corruption scandals were held two years ago.
Kejriwal’s upstart Aam Admi (Common Man) Party made a stunning electoral debut, winning 28 assembly seats in recent state polls and delivering a stinging defeat to the Congress party, which rules at the national level.
His decision to use public transport echoes his promise to end the VIP culture of Delhi’s political elite and set a down-to-earth tone for his new administration.
“It is not me who will be the chief minister — it will be Delhi’s common man,” Kejriwal said ahead of his oath-taking ceremony. “I have come to fulfill the promise that I made to you,” he told supporters on the eve of his swearing-in. “Your problems will be heard by us and solutions will be given here.”
The rookie 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 politics and in daily life.
The 45-year-old former tax inspector, named top news weekly India Today’s newsmaker of the year, has eschewed the customary motorcade with its wailing sirens to take him to the swearing-in ceremony.
‘Moral face of Indian politics’
He has declared that he will 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 surrounded by lush lawns built by India’s former British colonial rulers.
Kejriwal, normally seen sporting his trademark white cap emblazoned with the words “I am a common man,” plans to keep living in his fourth-story apartment in the Delhi suburb of Ghaziabad and has declined police protection.
“He has emerged as a new moral force in Indian politics,” said India Today editor-in-chief Aroon Purie in an editorial. “The challenge now is to live up to the expectations of the voters who see him as a saviour.”
Kejriwal came to national prominence as an advisor to elderly social activist Anna Hazare, whose anti-corruption drive galvanized the country in 2011.
Kejriwal then went on to found his own party after the two men fell out over strategy. Hazare, now 76, believed the anti-corruption fight should remain nonpartisan, 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 not able to form a majority. Kejriwal will govern with outside support from Congress, which won only eight seats.
Kejriwal initially refused to team up with Congress, which he had denounced as brazenly corrupt, but finally bowed to a flood of emails and text messages from Delhi citizens urging him to form a government.
He says he plans to use referendums to consult with voters on big issues.
“I voted for him and I want to see him make a difference in politics,” said a security guard, Munshi, who goes by one name.
The day before his swearing-in, Delhi bureaucrats got a taste of Kejriwal’s style, grilling officials about local problems.
He faces no easy task in governing Delhi, which is one of the world’s most congested, slum-ridden and polluted cities, lacking proper sanitation and reliable power and with roads full of bone-jolting potholes.
The rout of Congress in Delhi and three other state polls earlier this month has been seen as a sign that the powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has given India three prime ministers since independence in 1947, may be about to lose office on a national scale.