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22 Mar, 2024 06:43

Delhi chief minister arrested over corruption claims 

Opposition parties claim a “conspiracy” and plan nationwide protests, weeks before the general election

Indian law enforcement has arrested Arvind Kejriwal, leader of opposition Aam Aadmi Party – which governs the Indian capital and the state of Punjab – on corruption charges. Kejriwal serves as chief minister of Delhi, which has the special status of a union territory under the constitution and an elected legislative assembly.

Late on Thursday night, the Directorate of Enforcement (ED), India’s financial crime agency, took Kejriwal into custody following a raid on his residence. The arrest was part of a money laundering case linked to a liquor policy for the capital, implemented in November 2021 and scrapped in July 2022 due to alleged irregularities that provided undue advantages to private retailers. 

Kejriwal has denied the allegations and ignored numerous summonses in the case. His party has said the arrest is part of a “conspiracy” – as AAP will compete with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the general election, beginning next month.

Other AAP leaders, including New Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament) member Sanjay Singh, were arrested by the ED in the same case. 

Members of Kejriwal’s party on Thursday staged protests outside his residence as he was taken away, and later blockaded roads. On Friday, police deployed additional forces and barricaded the central region of New Delhi amid continued protests. AAP leaders have said they will seek an urgent hearing in the Supreme Court of India to secure Kejriwal’s release.

Kejriwal “has not been convicted and will continue to govern as the Chief Minister from jail”, said Atishi Marlena, the education minister of Delhi who is considered a close confidante of Kejriwal. “There are no rules that prohibit him from doing so.”

Ever since the ED issued a summons to Kejriwal in November, AAP leaders have maintained that he will not resign, and will instead run the government from behind bars.  

Kejriwal has become the second senior official from an opposition party to be detained by the ED in less than two months. Before him, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren was arrested in January in connection with a graft case. Soren, however, resigned from his post just before the arrest. 

On Tuesday, BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra claimed that Kejriwal had ignored “approximately” nine summonses over six months. “By ignoring the summons, Kejriwal disrespected the Constitution”, Patra said, foreshadowing the arrest. Patra denied allegations of political motives and asserted that agencies are conducting the investigation based on “evidence.”

Opposition parties, however, have claimed that Kejriwal was arrested as the BJP was “jittery” ahead of a seven-phase election beginning on April 19. According to various pollsters, the BJP is likely to win, paving the way for a third term for Modi. 

These arrests will only cement people’s desire to defeat BJP, defend democracy and Indian Constitution,” Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury suggested in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

Akhilesh Yadav, president of the Samajwadi Party (SP), a major force in central India, said Kejriwal’s arrest “will give birth to a new people’s revolution.” Trinamool Congress (TMC) party leader Derek O’Brien, who claimed that opposition leaders were being “harassed” before the elections, questioned “the fate” of India’s “precious democracy” in the wake of Kejriwal’s arrest.

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi, leader of India’s oldest political party – the Congress – met members of Kejriwal’s family on Friday and will seek to provide legal help to the arrested leader, news agency ANI reported, citing sources. Last year, Gandhi was convicted of criminal libel after a complaint by a member of the BJP. He was disqualified from parliament until the conviction was stayed by the Supreme Court.

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