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Tuesday
Feb182014

India's anti-corruption party's hopes fade amid controversy, chaos

Arvind Kejriwal, courtesy of YouTubeIndia’s novice anti-corruption party has flamed out just 49 days after assuming control of administering the nation’s capital city-state.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the firebrand leader of the anti-corruption Aam Admi Party (AAP), has resigned after losing his majority in the city’s legislative assembly.

He was unable to push through his centerpiece anti-corruption legislation and became mired in controversies that raised serious questions about the party’s competence.   

This may be bad news for AAP’s supporters, but the party’s poor debut may accelerate change, as even mainstream Indian parties are declaring their electoral stands against corruption now.

One could have expected that the fledgling political party would experience growing pains as it began the hard work of governing, but Kejriwal and his government have stumbled from the start.

After ordering private companies supplying power to New Delhi to lower their tariffs and rewarding supporters with slashed electricity bills at state expense, Kejriwal declared that foreign retailers would not be allowed to operate in New Delhi because they "cause unemployment."

He continued his attack against power companies with corruption charges against a major business leader and former government officials.  

In a truly disturbing episode, Kejriwal’s law minister led a mob attack on a group of African women in a New Delhi neighborhood, dragging them from their homes, forcing them to urinate in the street before the mob and submitting them to drug tests and cavity searches at a government medical facility.

The law minister alleged without evidence that the women were involved with drugs and prostitution. The Delhi police refused to arrest the women and tried to protect them from the mob.

Kejriwal responded by demanding that these police officers be disciplined for not arresting the Africans. He then shut down central Delhi with a multi-day protest.

The law minister now faces accusations of racial abuse and criminal charges for his role in the attack.

The AAP’s rapid descent into farce and its exit from power is unlikely to diminish the deep anti-corruption mood that has seized the Indian electorate. The national Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) may regain some of the anti-incumbency momentum stolen by AAP’s Delhi electoral victory.

The BJP prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, is a proven administrator, despite some controversial actions. Even the ruling Congress Party, stung by its embarrassing thumping by the AAP last fall, has moved to address concerns about its scandal-ridden performance in the current government.   

The AAP has moved to position itself for the upcoming national elections to be held by May. It is unclear whether the AAP’s brief and rocky tenure in New Delhi will mark it a martyr to forces of the status quo or a fringe group unable to move successfully from street protests to the halls of power. 

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Russell Stamets is a Contributing Editor of the FCPA Blog. He was the first non-Indian general counsel of a publicly traded Indian company and was general counsel for a satellite broadcasting joint venture of a large Indian business house. Russ can be contacted here