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India anti-graft party takes charge in New Delhi

NEW DELHI -- Anti-corruption champion Arvind Kejriwal promised to serve “the common man” as he was sworn in Saturday as chief minister of New Delhi in what supporters hope will mark a turning point in India's graft-ridden politics.

Loud cheers erupted as Kejriwal took the oath in front of tens of thousands of supporters in a Delhi park after living up to his “ordinary man” reputation by riding the subway to the ceremony.

“I will do my duties as a minister honestly,” said Kejriwal, a political outsider who led his rookie anti-graft Aam Admi — Common Man — Party to a stunning electoral performance in state polls this month.

Kejriwal, 45, wearing his trademark Gandhian white cap emblazoned with his party's slogan, “I am a Common Man,” said he had no “magic wand” to the megacity's massive housing, infrastructure and sanitation problems.

“But the people, not the police or bureaucrats will run government,” he said, adding, “If we all come together then we can change the country,” he said.

Cries of “Long Live the Aam Admi Party” rang out from supporters who waved placards declaring “Today Delhi, Tomorrow the Country” as well as brooms — the party's symbol for “cleaning” India's corrupt political house.

Police estimated the crowd at up to 100,000.

The party, formed just a year ago, won 28 assembly seats, humiliating the Congress party which was reduced to just eight seats.

Congress's rout in Delhi and three other state polls has been seen as one more sign the powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has given India three premiers since independence, may be about to lose office in national elections due in May.

Aides said Kejriwal, a father of two, had no time for celebrations and would start work immediately.

“He's a simple man, a workaholic. He rises at 4:30 and goes on to 11:30 at night,” Mayank Gandhi, a new minister, told NDTV news channel.

The ex-tax inspector's unprecedented move to use public transport to reach the swearing-in echoed his pre-poll pledge to end the culture of privilege surrounding Delhi's politicians and set a down-to-earth tone for his administration.

Unlike his predecessors, Kejriwal, whose backers range from taxi drivers and teachers to business proprietors and servants, has said he and his ministers will not occupy the sprawling bungalows surrounded by lush lawns built by India's former British colonial rulers.

Kejriwal, named news weekly India Today's Newsmaker Of The Year, plans to keep living in his modest flat in a Delhi suburb.

“He has emerged as a new moral force in Indian politics,” wrote India Today editor-in-chief Aroon Purie.

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Supporters of the anti-corruption champion and Aam Admi Party watch their unseen leader Arvind Kejriwal taking his oath of office, Saturday. (AFP)

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