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Corruption activist delivers bruising defeat to India's Congress Party

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
updated 2:27 AM EST, Mon December 9, 2013
Arvind Kejriwal (center, holding microphone) addresses supporters from his office on December 8, 2013.
Arvind Kejriwal (center, holding microphone) addresses supporters from his office on December 8, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man's Party, wins 28 of 70 boroughs in the state of New Delhi
  • The party is led by Arvind Kejriwal, a 45-year-old former bureaucrat-turned-activist
  • The AAP uses a broom as its symbol and has promised to address problems of inflation and graft
  • Analysts say ruling Congress Party is headed for defeat at national polls slated for next year

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- Led by an anti-corruption activist, a new political party that claims to champion ordinary Indian voters made a startling electoral debut in the capital New Delhi in regional Legislative Assembly polls, emerging as the second-most powerful grouping in results announced Sunday.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which in Hindi means the Common Man's Party, won 28 of the 70 boroughs in the state of New Delhi in regional Legislative Assembly elections held on December 4, results posted on the website of the nation's poll watchdog showed.

Headed by a former tax official, Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP was formed on November 26, 2012, taking up its election symbol -- the broom -- only a few months ago.

Kejriwal -- who won a Ramon Magsaysay Award, regarded as Asia's Nobel Prize, in 2006 -- fought the elections himself, defeating New Delhi's three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit by more than 22,000 votes in a poll that drew more than 11 million voters.

Dikshit has been one of the leading lights of India's federally-ruling Congress Party of Sonia Gandhi -- the Italian-born widow of former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi.

Test of popularity

Removing criminals from Indian politics
Fighting India's corruption for decades
India about to go Gandhi again?

The result, seen as a test of the popularity of the ruling Congress Party ahead of national elections due in 2014, was one of a series of setbacks for the center-left party, which also failed to make gains in the larger Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh states -- which also held Legislative Assembly elections -- from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In Rajasthan, the BJP swept Congress out of the desert state with a decisive victory.

In New Delhi, the BJP appeared short of a clear majority of 36. After counting on Sunday evening, the BJP had won 31 of the 70 available seats, boosting its position by eight seats. Congress, meanwhile, suffered one of its worst defeats in recent history, gaining just eight seats and losing 35.

It was not immediately clear who would be able to form the state government in New Delhi as Kejriwal has so far declined any coalition understanding with either of the two parties.

Deep introspection

"It goes without saying that we are very, very disappointed at the results, but we accept the verdict of the people in all humility," Sonia Gandhi said as her opponents gained decisive leads.

"Naturally, this result calls for deep introspection. We have to understand (and) to look at the many reasons for this defeat. We have to look into the way we took or did not take our message to the people and also we have to look at the way our own party is equipped or not so well equipped in running an election," she said.

Gandhi acknowledged that high prices -- in a poll that has been dominated by voter anger over inflation, widespread corruption and slow growth -- was one of the reasons behind her party's poor results.

The time for peaceful fasts and protests is gone. This is the time for action.
AAP party platform

Kejriwal, 45, rose to prominence two years ago as anti-graft protests led by 76-year-old anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare galvanized India amid a series of high-profile scandals that wracked the ruling party.

Time for action

Kejriwal charted his own course, launching the AAP as an alternative to established political groupings.

"The time for peaceful fasts and protests is gone. This is the time for action. Since most political parties are corrupt, greedy and thick-skinned, it's time to bring political power back into the people's hands," the AAP says on its website.

In their door-to-door campaign in the run-up to the elections, young AAP activists carried the symbol of their party -- long-handled brooms -- as they lobbied voters over issues such as the high price of food, power, water, healthcare and school education.

"Unfortunately, my party has lost the connect with the young voters. In this age of the Internet and Facebook, they are much more awakened today than they were a few years ago. And it's that group that has voted against us most," said M.S. Bitta, a former president of the Congress party's youth wing.

"Young India sees a dark future, when it comes to affordable education, when it comes to jobs. They wanted a change and the outcome in Delhi is a sign of change," he said.

Political analysts have warned Congress faces collapse at national polls next year if it fails to address concerns over graft.

"I would call it a democratic rebellion. The outcome in Delhi is an indicator of that rebellion spreading further if the old guard doesn't mend its ways. It has to perform to the satisfaction of the public or perish," said columnist K. G. Suresh.

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