* Anti-corruption crusader Kejriwal targets powerbrokers
* Critics dismiss Kejriwal as political opportunist
* Kejriwal plans political career to fight corruption
* Indians view political parties as most corrupt - poll
By Ross Colvin and John Chalmers
NEW DELHI, Oct 30 From a shabby house in one of
New Delhi's grimmest suburbs, a mild-mannered former tax
official has launched a salvo of accusations of corruption
involving some of India's most powerful people, rocking the
In quick succession, Arvind Kejriwal has publicly levelled
charges of shady dealings against the son-in-law of ruling
Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, the outgoing law minister and
the leader of the main opposition party.
His claims, carried live and endlessly raked over by
breathless 24/7 television news networks, tap into popular
outrage over the deep-rooted corruption in Indian politics,
government and business that is often endured but rarely
confronted in so public a manner, even by the media.
"Our purpose is to tell the people that every single
political party is corrupt. They are in collusion with each
other, they protect each other," Kejriwal told Reuters as he sat
in a sparsely furnished office receiving a stream of visitors.
While none of Kejriwal's claims have yet led to any formal
investigations, his targeting of high-profile individuals is
Anti-corruption activists have in the past pressed for
stricter rules to tackle corruption but have refrained from
naming and shaming. Even rival political parties have tended to
shy away from personal attacks.
It is, though, the parties that Indians perceive as the most
corrupt institutions, according to Transparency International. A
recent survey of upper house lawmakers by National Election
Watch found their average net worth stood at about $2.3 million.
Lawmakers earn about $900 a month.
CRUSADER OR OPPORTUNIST?
Kejriwal has fought a decade-long campaign to bring more
transparency to government, but it was in 2010 that he began to
pursue corruption more vigorously.
He was one of the architects of the India Against Corruption
movement led by veteran social activist Anna Hazare, 75, whose
public hunger strike against graft last year led to an
outpouring of support from millions of middle-class Indians
disgusted by the venality of the ruling class.
Corruption is part of daily life in India - from bribes paid
for something as simple as getting a gas connection, passport or
avoiding a traffic violation, to multi-billion-dollar scandals.
Hazare's campaign has fizzled, but Kejriwal's targeting of
high-profile individuals has thrust him into the spotlight.
In the space of a few weeks the diminutive former
bureaucrat, who often wears a short-sleeve check shirt that
seems one size too big for him, has become a media
sensation. His news conferences attract hundreds of reporters,
and he has announced he is launching his own political party.
His critics dismiss him as a political opportunist, but
acknowledge his shrewd use of the media, especially television,
to amplify his anti-corruption crusade.
"He has shaken up the system. Whether that will result in
the cleansing of the system, I don't know," said political
commentator Swapan Dasgupta.
None of Kejriwal's corruption claims - which are based on
government documents obtained through India's Right to
Information Act or whistleblowers - amount to a "smoking gun".
But his outspokenness has emboldened Indian media to launch
their own investigations into those named.
TARGETS INDIA'S POWERFUL
A Congress party leader called Kejriwal a "self-serving
ambitious megalomaniac" after he produced documents alleging
irregularities in land deals involving Sonia Gandhi's
businessman son-in-law, Robert Vadra, and India's biggest
property developer, DLF Ltd.
Vadra has denied the allegations, saying they were "utterly
false, entirely baseless and defamatory". DLF, which has also
strongly denied any impropriety, saw nearly $580 million wiped
off its market value in a single day after Kejriwal's claims.
In making the allegations, Kejriwal trod on dangerous
ground. The charges punctured the almost bullet-proof wall of
silence that surrounds the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty, which is viewed
as the closest thing India has to a royal family.
Kejriwal, 44, smiles beneath his neatly trimmed moustache
when asked about the bitter verbal attacks on him. "We expected
all this to happen, which only means that we have been
effective. They are all rattled," he said.
Outgoing Law Minister Salman Khurshid called Kejriwal an ant
trying to take on an elephant after he alleged a
non-governmental group led by Khurshid and his wife misused
The Khurshids have denied any wrongdoing, and the prime
minister publicly demonstrated his support by making him foreign
minister on Sunday.
One of Khurshid's cabinet colleagues said he did not believe
Kejriwal's allegations that Khurshid had embezzled a sum
equivalent to $134,000. "It is a very small amount for a central
minister," he said, adding that he would have taken the charge
seriously if the amount had been 100 times larger.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called Kejriwal
a "hitman" after he raised questions about a land deal involving
BJP president Nitin Gadkari. Gadkari also denied any wrongdoing.
RAG-TAG CORRUPTION FIGHTERS
On any given day, the three-storey office of Kejriwal's
India Against Corruption in the east Delhi suburb of Ghaziabad
is a hive of activity.
Activists on plastic chairs tap away at laptops recording
citizens' complaints. Piles of pamphlets titled "Power to the
People" are stacked in a corner, while pictures of independence
hero Mahatma Gandhi dot the walls.
A small rag-tag group of paid staff and volunteers help
direct a sophisticated media campaign that includes Twitter,
Facebook, and mass text messages and emails.
In the lull that has followed Kejriwal's series of
corruption claims, questions have arisen about his "judge, jury,
prosecutor" approach, how he can sustain media interest in his
campaign without more sensational claims, and whether he is
being manipulated by political parties to smear opponents.
"Mr Kejriwal has done a signal service by raising the issue
of endemic corruption. But he does not seem to have the patience
to wait for one set of charges to be proved or disproved before
coming up with another," the Hindustan Times newspaper said.
Prashant Bhushan, a veteran Supreme Court lawyer and legal
advisor to Kejriwal, insists that the allegations of wrongdoing
are all carefully screened before they are made public. He
acknowledged, however, that it was possible some of them may
have ultimately emanated from certain political parties.
POLITICAL FIGHT LOOMS
Kejriwal dismisses media efforts to cast him as an Indian
Julian Assange, the controversial founder of WikiLeaks.
"Our idea is not to keep exposing people. Our purpose is to
change the political establishment," Kejriwal said.
Kejriwal has yet to name his party, which will contest
upcoming state and national elections, but his decision to enter
politics has raised eyebrows. Some political commentators, and
even former comrades, call him a naive idealist who will become
just another voice in a noisy parliament.
Kejriwal, who is shy and soft-spoken away from the
television cameras, straightens up in his plastic chair and
speaks with passion when asked to respond to such criticism.
"Without jumping into the system, it will be impossible to
clean up the system. We are going to challenge this political
system on a daily basis," he said.