Less than two months after coming to office, New Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal stepped down on Friday after failing to get an anti-corruption bill tabled in the capital region’s state legislature. Kejriwal, 45, came to power in December after his upstart Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP) defeated the incumbent Congress in state elections. The upset sent a clear message that voters in India’s capital were ready for change.
Kejriwal’s decision to step down isn’t exactly a shock. He has said he’d quit if he couldn’t pass the Jan Lokpal (Citizen’s Ombudsman) Bill, which would, among other things, establish an independent body to investigate allegations of corruption by public servants. The nation’s parliament passed another version of the Lokpal Bill last year. The version Kejriwal supports gives the anti-corruption body that would be established for New Delhi more power. Kejriwal resigned after lawmakers in the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scuttled the bill, voting against its introduction in the assembly.
“They know that if this law is brought in, their leaders will end up in jail,” Kejriwal said, according to local media, while announcing his resignation at AAP headquarters. A Congress spokesman later told the press that Kejriwal was a “negative person” who has been “looking for an excuse to run away.”
In less than 50 days in power, AAP’s high-drama brand of governance has gained its share of fans and skeptics. Kejriwal’s media-friendly moves, like spending the night under blankets on the street with protesters in a bid to reform the capital’s police force, have successfully drawn attention to his party’s anti-corruption fight. On Feb. 11, the Delhi government filed a criminal case that accused Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani and others of collusion in gas-price fixing. (Kejriwal has since attacked both the Congress and BJP for their close ties with the powerful industrialist.) The same day, Reliance released a statement denying the allegation, calling it “baseless and devoid of any merit or substance whatsoever.”
The AAP’s focus on corruption has been welcomed by many Indian voters fed up with a two-party system that is identified with the nation’s elite. Opinion polls show that the AAP remains popular in the capital. But observers question whether Kejriwal and his party can make the transition from political activism to effective governance. If his resignation forces new state elections to be held alongside national elections this spring, Kejriwal may very well end up as the capital’s chief minister again. The move may even lend momentum to AAP’s national campaign. If the party can find a way to turn platforms into policies, it could become the new third force in Indian politics. If it can’t, it may be doomed to become part of the problem, not the solution.