Former Delhi leader Arvind Kejriwal attacked India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani over gas pricing as he turned his attention full time to a nationwide election due by May after his 49-day rule of the capital came to an end.
Kejriwal, who resigned as Delhi chief minister on Feb. 14 after lawmakers rejected an anti-corruption bill, targeted the ruling Congress party, main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and Ambani, who runs Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL), India’s second-biggest company by market value. Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party yesterday unveiled its first 20 candidates for the elections.
“Would 2014 elections be fought between AAP and Mukesh Ambani, with Rahul and Modi being agents of Mukesh Ambani?” Kejriwal tweeted, accusing Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and BJP leader Narendra Modi of having close ties with Reliance. In other Twitter posts, Kejriwal called for Gandhi and Modi to clarify their positions on the gas price increase.
Kejriwal is seeking to tap into anger over rising prices to sap support for Congress and the BJP, adding to political uncertainty in Asia’s third-biggest economy as opinion polls show neither of the largest parties winning a majority. The anti-corruption activist’s term as chief minister was highlighted by public sit-ins, conflict with electricity and water agencies and a power struggle with the federal government.
“There was a point where there was this wave of energy and they won a large number of seats in Delhi, but post resignation I am not very sure the energy is the same,” said Ujjwal Kumar Singh, who teaches political science at the Delhi University, referring to the AAP. “We have to wait at least for a couple of weeks to see what kind of energy is being regenerated.”
Kejriwal’s government last week filed a police complaint against Ambani, Reliance Industries and Oil Minister Veerappa Moily for creating an artificial shortage of gas in the country. Ambani is the nation’s richest person with a net worth of $19 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Local gas prices will rise to as much as $8 per million British thermal units starting April 1 from $4.2 now, India’s Oil Secretary Vivek Rae said Jan. 12. Reliance, which produces gas from a field off India’s east coast, may increase its pretax profit by as much as 7 percent on higher prices, Standard & Poor’s said in a Jan. 14 report.
Tushar Pania, a Mumbai-based spokesman at Reliance, declined to comment yesterday. In a Feb. 11 statement, the company called Kejriwal’s allegations “completely baseless and devoid of any merit or substance whatsoever.”
“AAP is not against capitalism but it is against crony capitalism,” Kejriwal told a forum in Delhi today attended by executives from companies such as Godrej Consumer Products Ltd. and Hero MotoCorp Ltd. He received a standing ovation after he spoke.
Aam Aadmi, which means common man in Hindi, won 28 of Delhi’s 70 assembly seats in elections in December, compared with 31 for the BJP and eight for Congress. It formed the government on Dec. 28 with the backing of Congress lawmakers after the BJP declined to govern without a majority.
The 14-month-old party plans to contest more than 350 of the country’s 543 elected seats in the lower house of parliament. It is set to win seven of those seats, according to a Times Now and C-Voter survey released on Feb. 13, which showed the BJP’s bloc winning 227 constituencies, regional parties taking 215 and the Congress-led coalition falling to 101.
Kumar Vishwas, a poet and senior AAP member, will contest the seat held by Rahul Gandhi, the party said in a statement yesterday. Former television journalist Ashutosh, who goes by one name, will run in a constituency currently held by Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal.
Meera Sanyal, the Harvard Business School-trained former head of Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc’s Indian unit, will contest a seat in Mumbai represented by Milind Deora, a junior minister in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government. AAP has also fielded anti-corruption activist Anjali Damania against former BJP president Nitin Gadkari.
An Indian coalition government of smaller parties after elections this year may weaken the rupee and heighten risks to the nation’s credit ratings, Moody’s Investors Service said on Feb. 11. The currency has fallen about 12 percent against the dollar in the past year, contributing to Asia’s highest inflation by raising the cost of imports such as crude oil.
President Pranab Mukherjee imposed federal rule in Delhi without dissolving the state assembly, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said in parliament today. The president also accepted the resignation of Kejriwal and his council of ministers. A fresh election in Delhi can occur only if the assembly is dissolved.
“The party will now take its anti-corruption campaign all over the nation,” said Sanjay Singh, a senior Aam Aadmi Party leader, said on Feb. 15. “We will tell the nation how the Congress and the BJP are similar in corruption and not the right alternative in fighting corruption.”
Kejriwal, who has described himself as an “anarchist,” last month started a protest after police refused to take action when a member of his administration conducted a late-night raid of apartments on Jan. 15 where residents had reported drug trafficking. He has been demanding India’s central government transfer control of the New Delhi police to the state.
Kejriwal resigned after his government’s attempt to present an anti-graft bill in the state assembly was defeated on Feb 14 by members of Congress and the BJP. Lawmakers opposed the bill, which would’ve created an ombudsman to investigate politicians and bureaucrats suspected of indulging in corruption, after Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung said proper procedure wasn’t followed in presenting the legislation.
“His support base consisted of the middle-class people,” said Satish Misra, a political analyst at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based policy group that receives funding from Reliance, referring to Kejriwal. “Now, this middle class will be disillusioned with him. So, this support base will be drifting away from him.”
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