Ex-Delhi chief's party takes on big guns in polls

DAYS after giving up power in Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), unfazed by criticism, is moving ahead with its plans to contest the general election due within three months.

AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, who resigned as Delhi chief minister last week, will unveil an anti-corruption drive on Sunday while in the state of Haryana, as part of the party's general election campaign.

On Monday, Mr Kejriwal, not known as business friendly, reached out to business leaders and asked them to join and support the party. "We might have made mistakes, our policies might be wrong, but our intentions are not corrupt," he said.

He also plans to field candidates for more than half of the 543 constituencies up for grabs.

But already, 20 candidates, whose names were announced on Sunday, are hitting the campaign trail.

Former journalist Jarnail Singh, famous for throwing a shoe at Finance Minister P. Chidambaram at a press conference in 2009, is firming up strategy and reaching out to people in West Delhi, while social activist Medha Patkar, known for protesting against the construction of big dams, is turning out for Mumbai North East.

The party is also fielding candidates against well-established politicians, with poet and stand-up comedian Kumar Vishwas prepping for an electoral battle with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in the Gandhi bastion of Amethi, and social activist Anjali Damania taking on senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Nitin Gadkari in Nagpur, the headquarters of Hindu nationalists.

"People want change. They are frustrated with corruption and the existing system," said Mr Singh. "I am a simple man and don't know if I can win. But I have been bombarded by calls since the announcement."

Mr Kejriwal, a social activist turned politician, formed the AAP in November 2012 and came into the political limelight after his party won 28 of the 70 seats in the Delhi elections last December.

He formed the state government with outside support from the Congress Party, but announced his resignation last week over delays in passing an anti-corruption law.

He has introduced a new style of politics, pushing common people to turn politician and bringing transparency to party funding by putting up donation records on the party website.

"We are looking for strong and clean personalities," AAP leader Sanjay Singh told reporters.

Over the past two days, the party has seen a flurry of activity. It is in the midst of organising 2,500 rallies in 24 states as part of its anti-corruption campaign.

It also started a Jhadu Chalao Yatra, which means "broom procession" in Hindi, last Saturday. It involves supporters marching with brooms, the election symbol of the party, and will end with party members sweeping clean a public area, such as a school.

Political analysts say this is a clever political strategy as the AAP makes its debut in national politics.

"This is the best strategy for the party to fight elections. (Mr Kejriwal) is saying, 'I wanted to fight corruption, but the Congress and BJP didn't want me to'. That will appeal to people," said Professor Sanjay Kumar of the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

"The second positive is that they are trying to give an image of a brave party trying to take on big politicians. They are saying they are not afraid of taking on the bigwigs, and are not just focusing on the easy seats."

But the political heavyweights remained dismissive of the AAP.

Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, who is being challenged by AAP's Mukul Tripathi, told reporters yesterday: "Is it a party or was it a party in Delhi?"


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