NEW DELHI - India’s capital will hold state elections next month after almost a year without a government and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party trying to tighten its grip on power, organisers announced Monday.
Some 13 million people are eligible to vote in elections for the Delhi state assembly on February 7, with results known a few days later, India’s chief election commissioner said. ‘In order to restore the mandate of the people, the commission has decided that election results will be known before February 15,’ V.S Sampath told a press conference. The city of some 17 million people has been under president’s rule since February when firebrand anti-corruption campaigner and self-styled ‘anarchist’ Arvind Kejriwal quit as state chief minister just 49 days after taking power.
Kejriwal won plaudits for his anti-corruption stance and for shunning the VIP culture of Indian politics. But his brief tenure was marred by a street sit-in and disputes with the national government. Although Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party flopped at national elections in May, he is again expected to be the biggest obstacle facing Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The right-wing BJP is attempting to tighten its grip on power by wresting control of state governments from regional parties as well as from the main opposition Congress.
Modi vowed at the weekend to provide round-the-clock electricity for Delhi as he kicked off the BJP’s election campaign. Delhi has an unenviable reputation both for blackouts and as one of the world’s most polluted capitals, with diesel fumes adding to the cocktail of smog that regularly blankets the city. Rising prices are also expected to top the campaign agenda, while Kejriwal’s party will be pushing its plans to stamp out graft endemic in India. Kejriwal, a former tax inspector, won legions of fans for his anti-corruption stance and ‘common man’ approach which saw him ride the metro to meetings. But his decision to quit over the blocking of an anti-corruption bill - and later to mount a failed bid against Modi in the general election - sparked criticism that he was running away from the hard work of government. Moreover, UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged India Monday to help shore up stability in war-torn Afghanistan after the departure of US troops, saying the world was relying on South Asia’s powerhouse to play a lead role.
Speaking on a visit to the capital New Delhi , Ban said India had a ‘huge role’ to play on the security front in a region that has been beset by unrest. ‘The world is looking at India to help advance peace and prosperity in South Asia,’ the UN secretary general said at a pubic lecture. ‘Continuing instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not only the responsibility of these two nations. These challenges should be addressed through greater bilateral parleys.
‘The security challenges in Afghanistan cannot be solved by military process. It needs regional support from India,’ he added. India has poured $2 billion in reconstruction aid into Afghanistan and has been asked for further support, including military assistance in Kabul’s battle to contain a Taliban insurgency after a NATO combat mission wound up at the turn of the year. But while pledging to do all it can to promote stability, New Delhi is wary of being sucked into a ‘proxy war’ in Afghanistan involving allies of its nuclear-armed neighbour Pakistan.
Neither country has signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but in his speech, Ban urged India to embrace the idea of nuclear disarmament to avoid a ‘nightmare’ scenario. ‘South Asia faces danger of nuclear weapons. Addition to arsenal raises risk of nuclear nightmare. I request India to express solidarity in nuclear disarmament,’ Ban said. Since first becoming a nuclear power in 1974, India has said it would only ever use atomic weapons in response to an attack as part of its ‘no first use’ doctrine.