Broom-Waving Delhi Voters Sick of Corruption Roil India’s Elite

Broom-Waving Delhi Voters Sick of Corruption Roil India’s Elite

By Indian standards, Arvind Kejriwal is an unusual politician: he doesn’t use a police escort, he won’t field candidates who face murder charges and he publishes the names of those who contribute to his party’s funds. Kejriwal’s campaign against corruption is resonating with voters in New Delhi, shaking up the dominance of the country’s two main political groups and threatening to end the Congress party’s 15-year rule of the city. Some opinion polls show his year-old Aam Aadmi Party may win a third of the seats in a Dec. 4 election, enough to make him the capital’s kingmaker.“His party is transparent and trying to be different on sources of funding, campaigning and fielding of candidates,” said Bhaskara Rao Gorantala, research director at the National Social Watch in New Delhi, which analyzes governance. “Look at the other big parties — can you find out from where they are getting money to spend so much in elections? Impossible.”

Kejriwal is tapping into rising public anger over the corruption Indians face in their daily lives and charges of graft that reach to the heart of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. The Delhi poll is one of five state elections between Nov. 11 and Dec. 4 that cover almost a sixth of India’s population. The results on Dec. 8 will show how far support has slid for the ruling Congress party, which faces a general election by May.

In Delhi, Kejriwal promised to set up an anti-corruption body within 15 days if he gains power and is winning support with populist policies such as a 50 percent cut in electricity rates. Following the gang rape of a woman in the city last year, the party has pledged to set up a neighborhood watch program.

Dirty Delhi

“It’s an effort to clean our dirty system in Delhi,” Kejriwal, 45, said in an interview during a political rally in the capital of 17 million people on Nov. 11, where volunteers formed a human chain to prevent him from being mobbed by supporters. “The revolution will spread to the whole country.”

In the world’s biggest democracy, polls have typically pitted a Congress-led alliance against the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies, based on religion, money and social standing. Congress, led by Singh and President Sonia Gandhi, have been dogged by corruption allegations since winning re-election in 2009.

Aam Aadmi may get as many as 25 of the 70 seats in the Delhi assembly, with Congress winning 19 to 25 and the BJP claiming 22 to 28, according to a survey by CNN-IBN television channel published on Oct. 31. A poll in India Today on Nov. 8 gave the BJP a slim majority in the capital and victories in three other states.

Rape, Murder

About a quarter of federal and state legislators face charges that include murder, rape and kidnapping, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms in New Delhi, which has campaigned for better governance since 1999.

While Kejriwal and four other members of his party face criminal charges over political activities, some of its chief opponents in New Delhi are charged with more serious crimes that would disqualify them from Aam Aadmi. One Congress candidate faces charges for attempted murder, while two from BJP have cases of crimes against women, ADR said in a report yesterday.

Haryana-born Kejriwal joined the Indian Revenue Service in 1992 and became a senior tax official in Delhi. In 2000 he began working on social projects and six years later he won the Ramon Magsaysay Award, dubbed Asia’s Nobel peace prize, for emergent leadership.

‘Common Man’

Aam Aadmi, which translates as “Common Man,” was born out of an anti-graft movement in 2011 that garnered global headlines. Kejriwal joined veteran campaigner Gandhian Anna Hazare, who was on a hunger strike at the Ramlila ground near Delhi’s Red Fort, to demand the passing of a bill that would appoint a Lokpal, or anti-graft ombudsman. The protest spurred nationwide rallies and the bill was introduced to parliament where it has stalled in the upper house.

Kejriwal’s political rivals responded by questioning the sources of funding for his party. Congress and the BJP said money Aam Aadmi received from overseas was illegal because only Indian citizens can make donations to political parties. The federal home ministry ordered an inquiry into the payments.

“They talk of corruption, but what about all the controversies surrounding funding?” Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who is seeking a fourth term and will fight Kejriwal for her own seat, told supporters this month.

Donor Details

BJP and Congress say they will disclose their spending to the election commission as required by law within 75 days of the assembly elections. Those details are then published on the commission’s website. Political parties are not legally obliged to identify donors who contribute less than 20,000 rupees.

Aam Aadmi said it received 200 million rupees ($3.2 million) from Indian citizens living in the U.S., U.K. and other countries, and published details of the donors on its website. About 75 percent of funds in the eight years ended March 2012 raised by India’s six national parties, including Congress and the BJP, came from “unknown sources,” according to ADR.

“Whatever inquiry they want to conduct against me, they should do that,” said Kejriwal, with his trademark mustache and rimless glasses, wearing a blue and white checkered shirt with the sleeves rolled up.

Aam Aadmi members say it doesn’t need more money to win in Delhi. While leading politicians arrive in sports-utility vehicles with a police escort, Kejriwal travels in a blue Wagon R, the flagship hatchback of Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. (MSIL) that sells for as little as 380,000 rupees.

As Kejriwal traveled through the capital to the Nov. 11 campaign rally in an open-top vehicle, party workers waved flags and shouted slogans as broom-waving supporters threw rose petals from their balconies.

A smiling Kejriwal waved back. “This is the last chance to bring change,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net; Andrew MacAskill in New Delhi at amacaskill@bloomberg.net

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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