India: Concern mounts over anti-corruption party’s economics
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India: Concern mounts over anti-corruption party’s economics

Aam Admi looks like it wants to turn India back to socialist days, writes Asia Sentinel’s Neeta Lal

After a stunning victory in the New Delhi elections two months ago on a platform of rooting out corruption, the shine is coming off Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Admi Party because of concerns over the party’s economic platform.

Kejriwal resigned as chief minister on Valentine’s Day after a tumultuous 49 days in office, triggered by the engineer-turned-politico’s failure to introduce an anti-corruption bill. But just before resigning, Kejriwal’s government filed a police complaint against Mukesh Ambani, the country’s richest man and chairman of Reliance Industries, for “creating an artificial shortage of gas in the country”.

Though such allegations are hardly new for Ambani, Kejriwal’s finger-pointing sans evidence and the way in which he quit office have raised serious questions about the rookie politico’s economic policies and his approach towards businesses.

That concern has intensified as after winning 28 of the 70 seats in the Delhi assembly, and being pushed into forming a minority state government with the backing of Congress in December, the AAP is now setting its sights on the national stage. It plans to field candidates in most of India’s 543 constituencies for the forthcoming general election.

(MORE: India readies for the biggest election on earth)

AAP’s ambitions are increasingly being watched by Indian business leaders and urban liberals with trepidation who feel the party’s economic policies are incoherent, hostile to the free market and don’t infuse confidence in India Inc. The party fulfilled a campaign pledge to block foreign-owned superstores, including Wal-Mart, from opening in Delhi, saying they would drive India’s ubiquitous family-owned shops out of business, and has threatened to limit foreign investment, a troublesome concern in a country starved for foreign investment.

On Sunday, Kejriwal followed up on his charges against Ambani, launching a nationwide campaign by going after not just Ambani but the Congress and BJP parties as well, saying the Reliance owner had funded the campaigns of both the BJP’s prime minister candidate Narendra Modi and that of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. Kejriwal has repeatedly accused the tycoon – as well as his billionaire brother Anil – of influencing the current administrative system to land key projects and acquire huge sums of money.

“Corporates are worried. Kejriwal talks about businesses and politics being hand-in-glove but making such sweeping statements and accusing respected businesses without evidence is not conducive to the country’s business climate,” said Amar Aggarwal, a third generation jeweler in Delhi’s walled city.

Industrialists are also wary of its pursuit of what they term as the party’s “socialist, left agenda” which they feel is too ambitious and tough to implement. Many dismissed as impractical and unworkable Kejriwal’s decision to provide 700 liters of free water and halve electricity tariffs to Delhi’s residents soon after coming to power. The main worry was: Can the state exchequer, already burdened by subsidies, afford a higher dole out?

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