Aam Aadmi Party targets high-ranking politicians, ministers

NEW DELHI Fri Jan 31, 2014 6:45pm IST

A supporter of Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP) holds a portrait of Delhi's chief minister Arvind Kejriwal during a protest in New Delhi January 20, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood/Files

A supporter of Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP) holds a portrait of Delhi's chief minister Arvind Kejriwal during a protest in New Delhi January 20, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Ahmad Masood/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday named a string of high-ranking politicians he described as corrupt and said his anti-graft Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would target them in an upcoming general election.

Kejriwal, whose year-old party swept to power in Delhi in local elections in December, is working on a national campaign that is likely to split votes for the governing Congress party and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

On Friday, he read from a sheet of paper the names of more than two dozen powerful politicians from across the political spectrum and said his party would field strong candidates against them in the polls due by May.

"Suresh Kalmadi. Should we defeat him or not?" Kejriwal asked a meeting of party leaders to cheers.

Kalmadi was arrested in April 2011 on charges of inflating tenders for equipment used at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, which he headed, and served nine months in prison.

All the politicians Kejriwal has accused have denied any charges of corruption. Cases take years, if not decades, to wind through India's notoriously slow judicial system.

The AAP's success in Delhi has led to huge interest in Kejriwal and the party up and down India, where voters seem to be thirsty for change after 10 years of scandal-prone rule by a Congress party-led coalition.

The AAP has only recently begun operating outside the capital and its strength is untested.

Kejriwal's party will contest at least 350 seats of the 543 lower house of parliament seats, senior party member Sanjay Singh said at a news conference on Thursday.

ATTACKS

An opinion poll conducted early this month suggested the party may only pick up a dozen seats. Its main support is in Delhi and surrounding states such as Haryana and Punjab, polls shows.

Kejriwal on Friday named cabinet ministers, including Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid and Oil Minister Veerappa Moily.

"If we don't defeat Veerappa Moily, then from April 1 gas and electricity prices will double," said Kejriwal, who has offered free water and slashed power prices in Delhi since coming to office.

He also attacked the BJP leader Narendra Modi, who polls show is voters' favourite candidate for prime minister.

Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty who is leading the Congress party in the campaign, was also cited as an election target although he is not embroiled in any scandal.

Politics in India, the world's largest democracy, has been plagued by corruption and other problems. About 30 percent of lawmakers across the federal and state legislatures face criminal charges, many for serious crimes such as rape, murder and kidnapping.

Many questions focus on the source of funding for political campaigns. More than 90 percent of funding for the Congress and the BJP comes from unknown sources, according to the advocacy group Association for Democratic Reforms.

But corruption has rarely been an election issue until now. Scandals have come thick and fast on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's watch in the last few years and Kejriwal's party has quickly tapped into the public disgust over sleaze.

(Reporting By Sruthi Gottipati; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Ron Popeski)

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