NEW DELHI: Arvind Kejriwal promised to make Delhi India’s first corruption-free state and end what he called its “VIP culture” as he was sworn in as chief minister Saturday in front of a huge crowd of cheering supporters.
The veteran anti-graft campaigner also pledged to stick out his five-year term and said he would not succumb to arrogance after his upstart Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP) won one of the biggest election victories the Indian capital has ever seen.
Kejriwal dealt Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party its first major defeat since last year’s general election after pledges to tackle entrenched corruption and lower utility bills won over legions of working-class voters willing to give him a second chance.
The 46-year-old former civil servant’s first term as chief minister lasted just 49 days and ended in chaos when he quit exactly a year ago.
Despite that, his party took all but three of the 70 state parliament seats in elections last Saturday, a remarkable turnaround for the politician most pundits had written off after a poor performance in the general election.
In his inauguration speech, Kejriwal admitted he had been over-ambitious, and promised to focus on running the capital.
“I have decided that for the next five years we will only focus on Delhi. I will serve Delhi with all my heart,” he told the gathered crowd at the open-air ceremony.
“I will make Delhi corruption-free within five years,” he said, promising to push through an anti-corruption bill.
Corruption is a huge problem in Delhi, where many citizens complain that they need to pay bribes even for something as basic as getting a driver’s licence, and the city saw the emergence of a huge anti-graft movement in 2011.
Kejriwal also said his government would eschew the trappings of power, including the red beacons that allow senior politicians to glide through traffic in the gridlocked city.
“In developed countries, even PMs wait at bus stands. Why can’t the same happen here?” he said.
“We want to end the VIP culture in this country.”
Kejriwal also said people of all faiths should live in harmony in the Indian capital, which has suffered a recent spate of attacks on churches, promising “strong action” against acts of religious hatred.
Some analysts have attributed the Hindu nationalist BJP’s poor performance in the Delhi polls to a failure to address religious extremism in India.
Kejriwal, whose supporters range from domestic servants to teachers to business entrepreneurs, based his election campaign around pledges to deliver cheaper water and electricity as well as a promise to counter corruption.
On Saturday he said that both the BJP and the Congress party, which ruled Delhi for over a decade before suffering a humiliating defeat at the polls, had paid the price for being “arrogant”.
“We must not let our victory go to our heads,” he said.
The new chief minister was dressed simply in a navy sweater and trademark white paper cap bearing the words “complete self-rule” — a reference to his ambition to secure greater autonomy for Delhi.
The central government retains greater powers in Delhi than in most states, including controlling the police.
Tens of thousands turned out for the open-air ceremony at the Ramlila ground where Kejriwal also chose to have his first inauguration, in a break from the tradition of taking the oath in the state assembly.
Many carried Indian flags and wore the white paper hats printed with the words ‘common man’ in Hindi for which the AAP party is known.
During his last brief tenure as chief minister, Kejriwal famously declared himself an anarchist and staged several street protests outside government offices.
Before last Saturday’s election he apologised for leaving voters without an elected government for a year, telling the Times of India daily that he and his party had “evolved”.
Kejriwal appears eager to project a more grown-up image this time around.
He arrived at Saturday’s swearing-in by car, after famously travelling by metro to his first inauguration.
Posters at the site showed him dressed soberly in a shirt and jacket and without the trademark woolly scarf that earned him the nickname “Muffler Man”.
Kejriwal quit his comfortable and highly sought-after government job in 2001 and embarked on a career as an anti-corruption campaigner that led to national fame.
The taxman-turned-politician came to prominence as an adviser to elderly social activist Anna Hazare, whose 2011 anti-graft drive galvanised India.