Tens of thousands join India's anti-graft party in nationwide recruitment

NEW DELHI (AFP) - 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 general 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," senior party leader Gopal Rai told AFP.

The party is spearheaded by Mr Arvind Kejriwal, a 44-year-old former taxman who has modelled himself as an anti-corruption activist and is now the chief minister of Delhi.

Observers say the huge popularity enjoyed by the Aam Aadmi Party suggests it could become a bigger movement that could threaten the grip of the two main parties, Congress, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on national politics.

The Aam Aadmi Party has also drawn a string of high-profile recruits in a major 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 Mr Kejriwal's party in recent days.

Mr Kejriwal has said the party's target is to enrol some 10 million members by January 26.

"The success of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi assembly elections has spread the hope for honest politics throughout the country. So many people want to be a member of the party and work for change," said Mr Rai.

A public meeting called on Saturday by the party to hear out grievances saw a huge crowd turn up at the Delhi government office, armed with written complaints and documents.

The meeting had to be called off midway as the crowds exceeded the expected numbers, leading to chaos and a near stampede.

Party officials promised to streamline the process to avoid similar scenes in future.

Mr Kejriwal has said his entire cabinet would sit in front of the Delhi government offices every Saturday to hear public grievances in what he called a "Janata Durbar" or people's court.

Public grievances are "a major issue for any government. It's the duty of every government to resolve the grievances," he said.

The step marks another novel move by the party founded just a year ago to connect with the masses.