New Delhi, Dec 28: In a momentous day in Indian politics, Arvind Kejriwal, a 45-year-old Magsaysay Award-winning rights activist and vocal anti-corruption campaigner, became the seventh, and youngest, chief minister of Delhi state, capping an amazing run that saw him become not just a electoral giant-killer but a major political contender in next year’s general election.
Soon after taking oath at the historic Ramlila Maidan, venue of many an epic political rally in the last six decades, including by such stalwarts as India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and his daughter Indira Gandhi and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajapayee, Kejriwal said: “It is a historic day, it is not Kejriwal who has taken the oath but the people of Delhi who have taken the oath. It is an effort to give power to the people of Delhi.”
Kejriwal, whose Aam Admi Party (AAP) created history by bagging 28 seats in the Delhi elections and defeating the Congress within a year of its formation, was administered the oath of office at a businesslike ceremony at the Ramlila Maidan, teeming with tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters, a large number of them young, senior citizens and women.
This was the first time any government has been sworn in at the Ramlila ground that is normally been the venue of large political rallies.
Six of his AAP lawmakers, including trusted lieutenant Manish Sisodia, took oath as cabinet ministers. One of them was a woman, 26-year-old Rakhi Birla.
Kejriwal kept to the “aam admi”, or common man, identification of his party by taking a metro ride from his home in Kaushambi to the Barakhamba station, along with his supporters, enroute to Ramlila Maidan.
He was mobbed by ecstatic crowds from his home and at the metro stations with supporters waving national tricolours and sporting the AAP white sidecap with the words — Main Hoon Aam Admi (I am the common man). The AAP symbol of the spiky broom was visible everywhere.
Kejriwal’s speech after becoming chief minister was around 15-minute long, in keeping with the brief ceremony, which was over in less than an hour. The ceremony began at 12 noon.
Within a few hours he announced that red beacons on cars will be used only by essential services and ministers and officials would not use them — a major departure from the past “VIP culture” which he and his party have denounced. He also announced that security would be provided only on the basis of “threat perception”.
He has repeatedly declined the offer of special security by Delhi Police, saying god was his protector.
Kejriwal has pledged to provide a clean government and alternative politics to change the face of India but warned of “roadblocks” from entrenched interests.
He said the AAP’s decision to form a government in Delhi “is only the beginning. The real fight lies ahead”.
In the face of rising expectations from his government, Kejriwal advised patience and said he had no “magic wand” to solve all their problems.
The AAP founder leader said he was not worried whether or not he is able to prove his majority in the 70-member assembly Jan 3. Kejriwal’s minority government will be supported from the outside by the Congress, which remained silent on its future moves.
He said that if the AAP failed to prove its majority, “we will return to the people… People are ready for (fresh) elections.”
He also made people take a solemn pledge that they would never give or take bribes and promised to get the people a phone number they could call up to complain about officials demanding bribe. A pledge to take corruption head on was the running theme of his campaign.
Along with Kejriwal, the others who took oath as ministers are: Manish Sisodia, Somnath Bharti, Saurabh Bhardwaj, Rakhi Birla, Girish Soni and Satyendra Jain.
Kejriwal has kept the main ministries of home, power, planning, finance, services, vigilance and departments. Sisodia would look after education, higher education, Public Works Department, urban development, local bodies, land and building and revenue.
Among those who congratulated Kejriwal were Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who telephoned the new chief minister to extend his best wishes and support.
In Ralegan-Siddhi in Maharashtra, Kejriwal’s erstwhile mentor and anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare congratulated him and said he was confident that the Aam Aadmi Party leader will do a good job.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had got the highest number of seats in the elections, 31, also congratulated him as did the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
Within a few hours of being sworn in, Kejriwal got down to organising the work set-up, and allocated senior bureaucrats to the six cabinet ministers. Kejriwal is tipped to get Rajendra Kumar, an IAS officer of 1989 batch, as his principal secretary.
Kejriwal’s ambitions are not limited to Delhi. His party has said it is besieged with support from all over the country and plans to use the Delhi base as a launching pad for its national aspirations.
Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh said the other day that there will be three main faces in next year’s general election – Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, BJP’s Narendra Modi and AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal.