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Anti-corruption movement reels from India poll "debacle"

Its stunning electoral debut six months ago prevented Narendra Modi's party from taking power of the Delhi state assembly and spectacularly underlined the mounting anger among the public over bribery.

NEW DELHI: Its stunning electoral debut six months ago prevented Narendra Modi's party from taking power of the Delhi state assembly and spectacularly underlined the mounting anger among the public over bribery.

But after the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won just four seats at India's general election, analysts say the anti-corruption bandwagon now risks running out of speed.

"We expected more seats," Meera Sanyal, one of hundreds of candidates to be swept away by Modi's Hindu nationalist landslide, told AFP.

"But it surely is the beginning of a long journey for us," added Sanyal, who suspended her career as a banking executive to stand for Parliament in Mumbai.

Back in December, the party appeared to be making spectacular progress on its mission to clean up Indian politics.

It deprived Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from winning a majority in the Delhi state elections before its leader Arvind Kejriwal then became the capital's chief minister.

That triumph was a further sign of the resentment over bribery which first became apparent in 2011 when hundreds of thousands joined street protests to support veteran activist Anna Hazare as he went on a 12-day hunger strike.

Public anger erupted over a string of graft scandals embroiling the national Congress government, including the so-called 2G scam and contracts awarded for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

A minister was charged in 2011 over the scam in which he allegedly conspired with officials and businessmen to sell second generation (2G) telecom licences at throwaway prices in 2008 to favour some firms, costing the treasury up to US$39 billion.

For many, the protests were their first taste of political activism.

Kejriwal, Hazare's former protege, tapped into that energy by launching Aam Aadmi in late 2012, cheekily named after a Hindi term denoting the "Common Man" which was long used by the Congress party.

After being sworn in as Delhi chief minister, he then unfurled a series of anti-corruption measures which included a hotline for the public to call to report officials asking for backhanders.

But after only 49 days, he quit when Congress and the BJP combined to block his efforts to set up an anti-corruption commission.

Kejriwal, who later admitted it had been a mistake to walk out without consulting his supporters, compounded his error by deciding to take on Modi by standing for Parliament in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi.

Kuldip Nayar, a veteran analyst, said Kejriwal had been guilty of the kind of vanity displayed by leaders of traditional parties.

"He misread the situation because Modi is a phenomenon," Nayar told AFP.

"Modi had a proper machine and thousands of people were working for him."

Many analysts say Kejriwal could have won had he stood in Delhi against a prominent Congress figure. Instead, the party was wiped out in the capital and the only four seats that it did win were all in Punjab state.

Perhaps most damaging for the party's long-term prospects, none of its most prominent personalities such as Sanyal and former television presenter Ashutosh, who uses one name, were elected.

Ashutosh hinted he will seek pastures new, tweeting that it was "time to think, to introspect, to plan, to move. Life does not stop, it continues".

Political commentator Shiv Visvanathan said some of those who had become involved with the Hazare protests and then Aam Aadmi would remain politically active but it was inevitable that others would walk away.

"Obviously there will be some people who will drop out because the excitement has ended," he told AFP.

After what he called a "debacle" for the party, Nayar said Kejriwal may have to stand aside for his movement to survive but it could at least be comforted by the fact that it came second in many constituencies.

"The AAP could still be an alternative... They will have to regroup to see where they went wrong," he said.

The elections also saw some notably strong performances by politicians who have been tainted by corruption allegations.

While Aam Aadmi won less than one per cent of the 443 seats it contested, a Tamil Nadu-based regional party whose leader faces charges of illegally amassing wealth won 37 of the 39 seats up for grabs in the state.

Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram, whose AIADMK party is now the third largest in the national parliament, won over voters after handing out free electric blenders, goats or small amounts of gold.

While the AAP's rise was fuelled by a series of corruption scandals involving the outgoing government, Modi is credited with having presided over a relatively clean administration as chief minister of Gujarat state.

BJP president Rajnath Singh, tipped for a prominent role in Modi's administration, pledged at the weekend that the new government would meet "the highest standards of probity".

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