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India's 'common man party' set to take power in Delhi

Source: Reuters - Mon, 23 Dec 2013 10:03 AM
Author: Reuters
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Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the newly formed Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party, speaks with the media after casting his vote at a polling station in New Delhi December 4, 2013. REUTERS/Vijay Mathur
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By Shyamantha Asokan

NEW DELHI, Dec 23 (Reuters) - The leader of India's new "common man party" has struck a deal to become Delhi's chief minister, promising to clean up politics after a stunning electoral debut that has shaken up the country's two main parties.

Arvind Kejriwal, the mild-mannered former tax official who leads the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), announced on Monday that it would form a minority government having secured "outside support" from the Congress party that leads India's national coalition.

India's capital has been stuck in a political impasse for three weeks after a local election on Dec. 4 failed to produce an outright winner.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the country's main opposition party, won the largest number of seats in the Delhi assembly but fell short of a majority. The AAP, born out of the anti-graft movement that swept India two years ago, took second place, pushing the incumbent Congress to the third spot.

The new party, in an unusual move, consulted voters as to whether it should try to form a government with the support of the Congress party, which is mired in both national and state-level corruption scandals.

"We asked people through our website, SMS and through public meetings in the last week," Kejriwal said at a press conference. "The result that has come is that people in big numbers are saying Aam Admi Party should form the government."

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 a national election due by May, 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."

Kejriwal's request to form his new government requires a final sign-off from Delhi's lieutenant governor, Najeeb Jung.

RADICAL AGENDA

The AAP promised in its manifesto that it will send the city's corrupt lawmakers to jail within one year. Nationally, almost a third of India's lawmakers face criminal charges and many are shielded by a slow-moving legal system.

Every family in Delhi will get up to 700 litres water free every day. Electricity prices will be halved, partly by cracking down on falsely inflated bills.

However, AAP's deal with Congress could stymie this radical agenda. The incumbent party's "outside support" means that it will only back Kejriwal on an issue by issue basis.

"The support is not unconditional," Sheila Dikshit, the outgoing chief minister of Delhi, told reporters.

"As time progresses, and as their work starts, then we will take each issue separately. There is no bar in removing support in case we feel that it is anti-people or anti-government."

Dikshit and the Congress party, which governed Delhi for a record 15 years, faced voter anger over a range of issues such as a poor record on women's safety, which was highlighted by the brutal gang-rape and murder of a young woman last year.

(Additional reporting by Malini Menon in NEW DELHI; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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