NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The young anti-graft party that stormed to power in India's capital last month plans to field at least 73 candidates in national elections due by May to stand against politicians accused of crimes, its founder said on Monday.
Following its strong performance in Delhi, interest in the year-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has surged. Since an announcement earlier this month that it would contest the general election, its membership has passed 10 million.
Until now the party had not said how many of the 540 lower house parliamentary seats it might contest in an election pitting the centre-left governing coalition against front runner opposition candidate Narendra Modi.
While polls suggest the debutant party is unlikely to win more than a dozen or so seats, its success in Delhi has shaken up the national race, with Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party and the ruling Congress party both aping Aam Aadmi's anti-elite, anti-corruption language.
Even a small clutch of seats for the AAP could be enough to deny Modi a chance at forming a government, and give AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal a say in national policy.
The AAP will put up candidates in constituencies of 73 members of parliament who face serious criminal charges. Candidates will also stand for the seats of central government ministers which the party believes are corrupt, Kejriwal said in an interview with Reuters.
"The most important thing is there are a large number of cabinet ministers who have indulged in corruption, they need to be defeated," Kejriwal said.
"There are nearly 162 people in Lok Sabha who have criminal charges against them and there are 73 out of them who have serious charges against them. They need to be defeated, we will put up strong candidates against them," said Kejriwal, who was sworn in as the head of Delhi's city government on December 28.
He did not say how many, or which, government ministers would be a target.
Indian voters are notorious for rewarding candidates with criminal accusations against them. Politicians accused of crimes had a higher success rate than others in the last parliamentary election in 2009.
"It is for the people to decide if they want to support clean politics or not. Earlier the people used to say they didn't have an option, now we will provide them with a clean option," Kejriwal said.
The AAP is expected to also field national election candidates in constituencies in New Delhi and in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab.