x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Arvind Kejriwal launches his new political party

India's anti-corruption firebrand has formally launched his new national political party with a promise to promote democracy and battle nepotism.

Vinay Sethi (left) and his wife Anjum from Chandigargh in Punjab show off their registration cards at a mass political rally held in New Delhi.
Vinay Sethi (left) and his wife Anjum from Chandigargh in Punjab show off their registration cards at a mass political rally held in New Delhi.

NEW DELHI // Arvind Kejriwal, India's anti-corruption firebrand, formally launched his new national political party yesterday with a promise to promote democracy and battle nepotism.

"This party is result of our struggle against corruption," the long-time Indian revenue service bureaucrat said at the launch of the Aam Aadmi Party that attracted thousands of supporters singing songs and waving the Indian flag.

Mr Kejriwal, 44, has been a vocal driving force behind previous anti-corruption movements, tapping into the disgust of ordinary Indians amid a seemingly unending stream of corruption scandals that have tainted politicians of all stripes over the last few years.

Two years ago, he cofounded the India Against Corruption organisation with activist Anna Hazare who held series of very public hunger-strikes in a crusade for anti-graft legislation. The two parted ways in September over Mr Kejriwal's plans to enter politics.

DK Srivastav, 56, a civil servant, travelled from Allahabad, in Uttar Pradesh to New Delhi, to hear Mr Kejriwal's announcement.

"Every politician I have known has lied to us, about everything," said Mr Srivastav. "Look at the Congress, the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party], they all make promises they don't keep. Smiling and waving while hoarding money from government schemes meant for the poor man. I want to see how this new party will run, what sort of candidates they will field. We have come with hope to see how they will do."

Mr Kejriwal, who had announced his plans for the new party on October 2, pledged to contest next year's assembly elections in Delhi and the elections in 2014.

Rizvan Ali, 60, a tailor from Delhi at yesterday's launch, hoped Mr Kejriwal would focus on workers' rights.

"I used to vote for the communist parties because they supported workers' rights and unions," Mr Ali said. "Now I am here to support them to see what they will do for us. He must support labour rights or he will drown just like the others."

Although fashioned as organisations that will appeal to the common man, India Against Corruption and the Aam Aadmi Party have little resonance with South Indians. Even the term, "aam aadmi", a colloquialism meaning the "common man" is northern phrase.

By his own admission, Mr Kejriwal has said that the party needs to broaden its appeal. His goal is to "go to every village and town in the country for the next year to convince people against the vote-bank politics of the Congress and the BJP".

His party is counting on the groundswell of anger against corruption in Indian politics, where scandals have dominated in everything from telecommunications to coal mining, to boost its support.

In the past two months, Mr Kejriwal has held a number of news conferences accusing various public figures and corporations of corruption. They included Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, for his real estate dealings, and newly appointed foreign minister Salman Khurshid for allegedly stealing donations intended for his charity for the disabled.

Mr Kejriwal also chastised the main political opposition, the BJP party, accusing its leader Nitin Gadkari of furthering his business interests at the expense of farmers.

The politicians he mocks deride his tactics and have called him everything from a muckraker to political opportunist.

While it remains unclear what solutions, if any, he or his new party has to offer, Mr Kejriwal's statements continue to raise his profile.

His latest allegation is that the international bank, HSBC, was helping wealthy Indians, including the owners of some of India's biggest companies, to hide money abroad.

It prompted Anjum Sethi and her husband Vinay to drive 250 kilometres, from Chandigarh to New Delhi, to sign up with the new party.

"We have been so foolish all along, not knowing how international markets have helped India with corruption. We looked around ... and decided it was time to sit up and object," said Mrs Sethi, 40, a real estate agent.

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting from the Associated Press