Delhi chief's departure 'sets stage for 2nd act'

NEW DELHI - Less than two months ago, Mr Arvind Kejriwal rode Delhi's Metro to his own swearing-in as the city's Chief Minister after winning one of the most stunning election debuts as a newcomer to Indian politics.

But last Friday, the 45-year-old politician of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), or common man party, resigned, plunging Delhi into political uncertainty but freeing him up to campaign for the general election in three months.

Mr Kejriwal quit after a Bill that would have set up an anti-corruption ombudsman was blocked from introduction in the Delhi assembly by the rival Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party, on the grounds it had to be first approved by the federal government.

"I didn't come here for power or for the chair. And that is why our government hereby resigns. A hundred chief ministerial chairs can be sacrificed," he told his cheering supporters last Friday evening before submitting his resignation. "It is clear that we have to be in Parliament."

The headline in The Indian Express predicted "Kejriwal's second act begins", while the paper said in an editorial: "As it enters the larger arena, however, AAP will be judged not only by what it preaches but also by its practice."

Mr Kejriwal, a former income tax officer turned social activist, entered politics after he launched the AAP in November 2012 during an anti-corruption uprising that fed on people's anger.

His hard stance against corruption saw him corner 28 of the 70 seats in polls on Dec 4, and he was sworn in on Dec 28. He formed the government with outside support from the Congress and went on to offer free water and electricity subsidies. He also set up an anti-corruption helpline and shunned such political privileges as a big house and security detail.

But he and his party ran into rough weather within a month, mainly for the methods they used to achieve their aims. The AAP was criticised after Law Minister Somnath Bharti led a mob that illegally detained African women on suspicion of being in a prostitution and drug racket and Mr Kejriwal led street protests against the police.

Mr Kejriwal has recommended that the assembly be dissolved and fresh elections be held. But it will be up to the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi who might also recommend President's rule, which means the state will come under the direct rule of the federal government until then.

Reactions to Mr Kejriwal's resignation were mixed. Political rivals accused him of having national political ambitions even as many of his supporters hoped the move would further strengthen the party. But the move is sure to dampen support among middle-class Indians who campaigned for him.

"I was a staunch supporter and went campaigning door to door in my locality. I was totally devoted to the party, but the way Mr Kejriwal has conducted himself through 49 days - that has disenchanted me," said Mrs Purnima Garg, a teacher who runs a Chinese language institute. "I wouldn't write him off because he hasn't been able to deliver. I am writing him off because he doesn't know how to behave and (due to) his methods."

Political analysts, however, said that Mr Kejriwal's popularity would increase among the poorer sections in society.

"He has lost esteem among the intellectuals, media and the middle class, which is disillusioned. But among the masses, particularly lower-income groups who are on the fringes, his popularity will rise. They saw him as someone who was trying to change a system that hasn't given them anything," said political analyst Sudhir Panwar. "He used this Delhi elections as a launching pad for national politics even though it looks more like drama rather than politics."

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