Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s detained anti-corruption crusader

Weekly Profile: Arvind Kejriwal claims to be the victim of a stitch-up. On March 21st Delhi’s chief minister and the leader of India’s opposition Aam Aadmi Party, which runs the capital and the northern state of Punjab, was arrested for allegedly failing to co-operate with an investigation into kickbacks the AAP supposedly received for alcohol licences.

Mr. Kejriwal protests, arguably with good cause, that Narendra Modi, the prime minister, and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are going after him to distract from their own corrupt practice of systematically investigating political opponents. (The BJP denied doing this.) On Saturday supporters of the INDIA Alliance, a 27-party bloc opposed to the BJP, will take to Delhi’s streets to demand Mr Kejriwal’s release. They want to make sure that one of their most popular leaders is allowed to campaign in India’s general election, which starts on April 19th.

It would be grimly ironic if Mr Kejriwal lost his role in public life because of graft allegations. An engineer-turned-civil servant from northern India, the 55-year-old rose to prominence as a rabble-rousing campaigner leading a popular movement against endemic corruption during the Congress-led government that preceded Mr Modi. He founded the AAP on this image. The party’s symbol is a broom—symbolising its commitment to sweeping away corruption.

Mr Kejriwal built a reputation for good governance in his ten years-plus as chief minister of Delhi, despite constant attempts by the central government to undermine his administration. Aided by his deputy, Manish Sisodia, who has been in jail since last February in connection with the same investigation that has ensnared his boss, Mr Kejriwal turned the capital’s failing education system around. It is now regarded as one of the country’s best. He also improved health care, particularly for Delhi’s poorest.

His anti-graft credentials have made Mr Kejriwal a thorn in the side of Mr Modi, who is loth to see an opponent project an aura of incorruptibility. The BJP has also stepped up its hounding of other parts of the opposition, as the election draws closer. Mr Modi has had success painting politicians from the long-established Congress Party—with which Mr Kejriwal’s party has allied—as corrupt, elitist and out of touch. Mr Kejriwal, a conservative, technocratic upstart, is harder to tar with the same brush.

Excerpts: The economist

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