India’s ‘common man’ candidate takes high office
Arvind Kejriwal, a former tax commissioner, traveled to his swearing-in ceremony by subway, eschewing the vast motorcades of his predecessors.
The New York Times
NEW DELHI — Standing before a crowd estimated in the tens of thousands, Delhi’s unlikely new leader, swept into office on an anti-corruption campaign, was sworn in Saturday, and he vowed to arrest anyone in his government, from police officer to bureaucrat, who demanded a bribe.
“Within two days, I will announce a phone number, and if anybody asks for a bribe, please complain by that phone number and that person will be arrested red-handed,” Delhi’s youngest chief minister ever, Arvind Kejriwal, 45, said soon after taking the oath of office.
Amid growing public anger over India’s widespread corruption, Kejriwal last year formed the Aam Aadmi, or Common Man Party, which shocked India’s two largest and most solidly established parties this month by winning 28 of the 70 seats in Delhi’s state assembly. He became the state’s leader after the Indian National Congress Party, which won just eight seats, agreed to support him.
Kejriwal, a former tax commissioner, traveled to Saturday’s ceremony by subway, eschewing the vast motorcades of his predecessors. He has vowed to do away with Delhi’s culture of privileges for the powerful that have been in place since the Mughal kings ruled India.
The party’s symbol — a broom — and its promise to sweep the administration of graft struck a chord with Delhi residents fed up with venal politicians, runaway inflation and slowing economic growth. The Congress party has been blamed for widespread corruption.
In contrast with past chief ministers whose swearing-in ceremonies were held at the state assembly among small, select audiences of the powerful, Kejriwal took the oath of office in Ramlila Maidan, an open area where he participated in mass anti-corruption protests several years before.
A spokesman for his party said the police had estimated the crowd at 100,000. Patriotic songs were played over loudspeakers, and many of those present carried signs reading “Today C.M. Tomorrow P.M.,” suggesting that Kejriwal would soon lead all of India.
Kejriwal said last week that he would not travel in one of the cars with flashing lights that allow high-ranking officials to zip through Delhi’s oppressive traffic. He also said he would not accept a security detail or live in one of the sumptuous houses at New Delhi’s core that India’s elite have occupied since the British abandoned them in 1947.
Kejriwal was sworn in along with six of his ministers. All of them wore simple, white Gandhian caps bearing slogans such as “I am the common man” and “I need self-rule.”
“We are here to serve the people, and we should not forget that,” he said.
During his campaign, Kejriwal promised to provide residents with 185 gallons of free water a day and to cut the price of electricity in half. Critics have said both promises will be almost impossible to fulfill. Nearly one-third of Delhi’s population lives in slums without regular access to clean water or electricity.
But he repeated those promises Saturday and said he would fulfill them.
“We do fear the rising expectations of the people of Delhi,” he said. “I pray to God that we should not make any mistake.”