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 Friday after 49 tumultuous days in office, saying his central anti-corruption initiative was being stonewalled by legislators from India’s two well-established parties.
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 erupted 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 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.
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 the country’s two heavyweights, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.
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“I am a very ordinary man, and I did not come here for power,” he told several hundred cheering supporters. “If I have to give up the chief minister’s chair a hundred times, I will sacrifice it a hundred times.”
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. 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 strained the state budget.
Many believed that Kejriwal had devised a brilliant beginning for his next act. Though his dramatic gestures since taking office, such as 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.”