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Exchange of vows, meant to echo afar

New Delhi, Dec. 28: First, he was sworn in. He then swore in the crowd.

Shortly after taking the oath of office, Arvind Kejriwal today made the hundreds at the Ramlila Maidan take an oath of good citizenship: never to take or give a bribe.

Delhi’s youngest chief minister turned the swearing-in into a political show — singing an old Bollywood number out of tune, smelling divine intervention in his success and invoking the Mahatma’s “Ishwar-Allah” chant.

From the Ramlila stage where he had grown under Anna Hazare’s wings and then grown out of his shadow, the former revenue official threw a challenge to the established political parties, calling the Congress “corrupt” and the BJP “communal”.

The crowd lapped it up, shouting: “Aaj ka CM, kal ka PM (Today’s CM will be tomorrow’s PM).”

It took just 15 minutes for the official swearing-in ceremony for Kejriwal and his six ministers to be over. The national anthem was sung and lieutenant governor Najeeeb Jung left. Kejriwal then took control of proceedings in an impassioned, 20-minute speech.

“The battle has just begun. The people of Delhi have given a message to the country that honest politics can succeed…. (Going by) the indications coming from across the country, I’m sure that in the next five years our country will turn into a sone ki chidiya (golden bird),” Kejriwal said.

He told the crowd: “Now you all will take a vow with me — ‘Mai kasam khata hoon ki na ghoos lunga na hi ghoos dunga’ (I hereby pledge to never accept a bribe nor give one).”

Kejriwal made the crowd and his ministers repeat the vow with him.

Minutes earlier, the new chief minister had offered the solution to corruption in government departments.

“If any official demands a bribe, strike a deal with them. Then inform me on a number that I will make public, and we’ll catch the corrupt official red-handed.”

Kejriwal later said the helpline would be set up within two days. He wrapped up the show by singing the title song of the 1959 film Paigham, starring Dilip Kumar and Raj Kumar.

He said the song was the “prayer” of his Aam Aadmi Party, and made his ministers and the crowd sing along with him.

Insaan ka insaan se ho bhai-chara, yehi hai paigham hamara (Let there be brotherhood among men, that’s my message),” Kejriwal crooned, though not with much skill.

But the crowd seemed not to mind. “Hamara PM kaisa ho, Kejriwal jaisa ho (What kind of a PM do we want? One like Kejriwal, of course),” it sang.

“We didn’t want to become chief ministers and ministers,” said Kejriwal, who was at the fasting Hazare’s side at the Ramlila Maidan in August 2011 to demand a “Jan Lokpal Bill”.

“We just wanted a strong law to fight corruption…. We fought but nothing happened. Then we realised that nothing can change unless the politics of the country changes.”

He said he had tried to make his mentor understand that taking the plunge into politics was necessary to cleanse the system but he would not agree. Hazare today congratulated Kejriwal and felt he would do good work.

But Kejriwal warned his ministers to guard against arrogance and said that being in power was far more challenging and fraught with danger than activism.

“We (the party) were born to remove the arrogance of the big parties. We should be wary that no other party has to take birth to dismantle us. Humility should be maintained at all times.”

Kejriwal also cautioned his party members that the “corrupt” and the “communal” forces would get back at them. But he also had an appeal for the rivals.

“I appeal to Congress and BJP leaders to forget their parties and support an honest government for the people,” he said, perhaps unwittingly underlining the fragility of his minority government, propped up with Congress support from the outside.

Kejriwal said he was ready to face another election if his government failed a floor test, stressing he was here not to rule but to “put governance back in the hands of the people”.

“If we fail in the confidence vote, we’ll return to the people. People are ready to vote us back to power,” he said.

Not a single Congress leader was at the swearing-in but Harsh Vardhan, who was the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, turned up. Kejriwal used the opportunity to reach out to him by labelling him an “honest man”.

“I know Harsh Vardhanji, he’s an honest man. But I can’t say the same about his party,” the chief minister said.

The day’s event over, Kejriwal, who has borrowed Congress trademarks like the white cap and populism, drove to Rajghat to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi.


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