India’s new anti-graft party has signed up tens of thousands of members in a nationwide recruitment drive as it seeks to build support ahead of general elections, an official said on Saturday.
The Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party plans to contest seats in the elections due by May following its success in the Delhi state polls last month in which it routed the scandal-tainted Congress party that rules at the national level.
“We had nearly 50,000 people sign up in the first three hours of our membership drive,” said senior party leader Gopal Rai.
The party is spearheaded by Arvind Kejriwal, 44, a former taxman who has modelled himself as an anti-corruption activist and is now Delhi’s chief minister.
Observers say the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) popularity suggests it could become a bigger movement that could threaten the grip of the main parties, Congress, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on national politics.
The AAP has also drawn a string of high-profile recruits in a boost to its national aspirations and efforts to change the face of India’s graft-ridden politics.
Prominent banker Meera Sanyal and G. R. Gopinath, the founder of a budget airline, are among those who have signed up with Kejriwal’s party.
Kejriwal has said the party’s target is to enrol 10 million members by January 26.
The AAP’s success in the Delhi elections “has spread hope for honest politics throughout the country. So many people want to be a member of the party and work for change,” said Rai.
A public meeting called Saturday by the AAP to hear grievances saw a huge crowd turn up in central Delhi, armed with written complaints.
The meeting had to be called off midway as the crowd exceeded expected numbers, leading to chaos and a near stampede.
AAP officials promised to streamline the process to avoid future similar scenes.
A new anti-corruption hotline launched this week was similarly overwhelmed by thousands of calls on its first day.
Kejriwal has said his cabinet will sit in front of Delhi government offices every Saturday to hear public grievances in what he called a “Janata Durbar” or people’s court.
“It’s the duty of every government to resolve grievances,” said Kejriwal.
The step marks another novel move by the party founded a year ago to connect with the public.
The AAP will “make a huge difference in the elections,” said K.G. Suresh, a fellow at the Vivekanand International Foundation, a think-tank.
“People are flocking to join the AAP. It’s going to hurt the BJP most because it wanted to cash in on anti-Congress sentiment,” Suresh said.
The BJP has been strongly attacking the AAP, saying it will unravel under the weight of its electoral promises.
As well as setting up the anti-corruption hotline, the AAP has slashed electricity bills and promised limited free water supplies.
The AAP’s growing popularity seems also to have rattled the Congress-led national government.
Congress scion Rahul Gandhi, expected to be named its prime ministerial candidate for the elections, met party leaders late Friday to discuss stepping up an anti-corruption drive in a move seen as aimed at stealing some of the AAP’s thunder.