Ever since independence, New Delhi’s leaders have commandeered the city’s most valuable real estate for themselves – living in the same bungalows behind the same walls left by British colonialists.
But on Monday, Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s new chief minister, vowed for the first time to break from India’s colonial past by promising that neither he nor his ministers would take up residence in those sumptuous homes.
He also promised to do away with a culture of privilege that allows ministers and top bureaucrats to zip through Delhi’s traffic in motorcades with police escorts and flashing lights.
In a letter dated Monday, a top Delhi police official wrote to Kejriwal’s private secretary that “Delhi police needs to give the security to him as per the norms,” and asked where the vast police detail should be sent.
In a handwritten response, Kejriwal wrote that he did not need security.
“God is my biggest security,” he wrote.
He did add, however, that he “would be grateful if some help is provided for crowd management or screening at a few places where I get mobbed.”
Kejriwal’s elevation to the chief minister of India’s capital city is among the most unlikely and meteoric rises to power in Indian history. At 45, he is Delhi’s youngest chief minister ever, replacing a woman 30 years his senior.
A former tax commissioner, Kejriwal gained national attention three years ago as the top adviser to Anna Hazare, the activist who has pushed India’s Parliament to adopt legislation creating an independent corruption monitor. The movement fell apart amid resistance from the governing United Progressive Alliance and growing tension between Hazare and Kejriwal.
Hazare continued to push for the legislation but believed he needed to do so in a nonpartisan way. Kejriwal disagreed, saying the failure of the movement meant he needed to become directly involved in electoral politics. So last year he formed his own party – known as Aam Aadmi, or Common Man – and declared his intention to fight in Delhi’s state elections.
Whispers among Delhi’s political establishment suggested that he had no chance of competing in a system known for corrupt pay-outs and among voters who expected hand-outs. But two weeks ago, Aam Aadmi won 28 seats in Delhi’s elections, compared with eight by the once-dominant Indian National Congress Party. Most embarrassing, Sheila Dikshit, the Congress Party’s long-time chief minister, was crushed in her own constituency. Those results may signal that India’s long-time political dynasty, the family of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, could soon lose its grip on power.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist party, won 31 seats in Delhi’s elections and was initially asked to form a government. But neither of the Hindu party’s rivals would lend support, so Kejriwal’s turn came.
Whether Kejriwal was willing to govern with help from the Congress Party, which he had criticized as hopelessly corrupt, was the much-asked question.
Kejriwal asked the people. More than half a million sent emails and text messages, and the party reported that the overwhelming response was that he should govern.
“It is not me who will be the chief minister,” Kejriwal told reporters in his office Monday. “It will be Delhi’s common man who will be the chief minister. Alone I cannot do anything.”
Significant challenges remain. Delhi is one of the world’s most polluted and crowded cities. A third of its residents live in slums with little access to sanitation or clean water; its electricity is fitful and its roads and poor infrastructure. Inflation is soaring, and India’s economy is flagging.
While he based his campaign on eliminating corruption, Kejriwal also promised to slash electricity rates in half and give free water to every Delhi household. He also promised to build 200,000 community and public toilets.
“It is easy to lead a movement but difficult to run a political party,” said Sudha Pai, a political science professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “Now they have to deliver on their promises of cheap electricity, free water and corruption-free government. Those are not easy promises to fulfill.”
Courtesy : © The New York Times News Service