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Delhi’s newly appointed chief minister resigns

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New Delhi – Arvind Kejriwal, a protest leader who was vaulted into the top post of Delhi’s city government after a startling electoral victory, resigned from his seat Friday after just 49 tumultuous days in office, saying his central anti-corruption initiative was being stonewalled by legislators from India’s two well-established parties. (Read)

Kejriwal had threatened to quit unless the state Legislature passed the Jan Lokpal Bill, which would create a body responsible for investigating complaints of corruption against public officials. The threat initially sounded melodramatic, coming so soon after he had taken office. But by Friday, the assembly had descended into pandemonium, and his motion to introduce a vote on the bill was defeated.

Kejriwal framed his decision as a principled one, and when he addressed supporters outside his party headquarters, they cheered as if he was announcing a victory. He said he would request that new elections for Delhi’s legislative assembly be held as soon as possible.

Indeed, many viewed his decision as a strategic move, allowing him to shift his focus to a more ambitious goal: Buoyed by its success in Delhi, his Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, Party, now plans to run hundreds of candidates in the general elections in May, posing an unexpected challenge to the country’s two heavyweights, Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party, known here by its acronym, BJP.

“I am a very ordinary man, and I did not come here for power,” he told several hundred cheering supporters, who had gathered outside his party headquarters. “If I have to give up the chief minister’s chair a hundred times, I will sacrifice it a hundred times. If I have to sacrifice my life for the country, I would consider myself fortunate.” (Watch)

Kejriwal said he would request that new elections for Delhi’s legislative assembly be held as soon as possible. Typically, the lieutenant governor would invite the assembly’s largest party – in this case, the BJP, which has 31 seats – to form a new state government. If the BJP refuses, the assembly will be dissolved and new elections held. In the interim, Delhi would come under presidential rule.

In some ways, Kejriwal’s resignation marked the swift deflation of a political experiment. Last year, Aam Aadmi seemed to capture the swelling frustration of this city’s middle classes, voters who have become increasingly alienated from those who govern them, and stunned the political class by winning 28 of Delhi’s 70 seats.

Finding himself unexpectedly in office, he faced an extraordinary challenge making good on his campaign promises. If he kept his oft-repeated pledge to autorickshaw drivers, for instance, he would infuriate middle-class commuters, and vice versa. Thousands of part-time teachers had canvassed for him based on the expectation that he would make them full time, a move that would have severely strained the state budget.

A still more sobering reality is that governing without a majority in any legislative body here is frustrating, if not impossible. As chief minister, Kejriwal did not have control over central functions, like the Delhi police. That friction had boiled over almost immediately, and Kejriwal declared a bizarre sit-in outside the office of the minister who oversees the city police. Opposition legislators had started a campaign to force one of his ministers to resign, placing a label reading “Porn Minister” on his chair, and giving him a mocking gift of bangles and lipstick.

Those challenges were mounting quickly, and some analysts Friday said Kejriwal never had much interest in resolving them.

“It was clear from the beginning that Arvind Kejriwal did not want to govern,” said Girish Kuber, editor of LokSatta, a Mumbai-based newspaper. “The writing was on the wall that it wouldn’t last, and the important thing was that he himself didn’t want it to work. He sensed that he has a critical role to play during parliamentary elections, and is hoping to cash in on what happened in Delhi.”

Still, India’s political culture clearly rewards renunciation, and many believed that Kejriwal had devised a brilliant beginning for his next act. Though Kejriwal’s dramatic gestures since taking office, like the sit-in, may have alienated elites, “the underclasses still see him as a savior,” said Neerja Chowdhury, a journalist and political analyst.

“He has taken a gamble,” she said. “He is going to go national, and he has decided that this is the way to do it.”

Indeed, the supporters who flooded the street outside Aam Aadmi’s office Friday were elated. Ajay Rai, a pharmacy owner, said the BJP and Congress had “colluded to make sure this government does not function,” and had prevented Kejriwal from fulfilling his promise of good governance. Archana Agnihotri, 51, a full-time party volunteer, described the decision as a wise one.

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