• Sunday, April 21, 2024

INDIA

Delhi chief minister’s arrest sparks nationwide protests

All the main leaders of his decade-old party are in jail in connection with the liquor case

Police detain a supporter of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) during a protest in New Delhi, India March 22, 2024. REUTERS/Sharafat Ali

By: Pramod Thomas

DOZENS of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) members were apprehended in New Delhi, with scattered demonstrations breaking out across India in opposition to the arrest of the party’s prominent figure on corruption charges, just ahead of the upcoming general elections.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was taken into custody by India’s financial crime agency on Thursday (21), accused of involvement in corrupt practices linked to the capital’s liquor policy.

His arrest, less than a month before India begins voting on April 19, is a setback for AAP and the larger opposition alliance of which he is a key leader.

All the main leaders of his decade-old party are in jail in connection with the liquor case.

AAP members, including some ministers in the Delhi city government, were stopped by police and taken away in buses as they shouted slogans and sought to march towards the city court where Kejriwal is expected to be produced, TV visuals showed.

Kejriwal has been arrested to stop him from campaigning in the general elections, said AAP leader and Delhi finance minister Atishi, who uses only one name.

“This is a way to steal elections,” she said in a statement.

AAP supporters also protested in the northern state of Punjab, the other state ruled by the party, staging sit-ins, shouting slogans and holding placards that read “I am also Kejriwal”.

“They can jail Kejriwal but they can’t jail his thoughts,” one AAP supporter told the India Today TV channel.

AAP activists also staged protests in the eastern state of Odisha, the western state of Gujarat, and in Srinagar, the summer capital of the federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

“BJP wants to distract people’s attention from their corrupt practices,” AAP’s Odisha convener Nishikanta Mohapatra told reporters, referring to prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“BJP knows that an honest leader like Arvind Kejriwal is capable of defeating them. This is why they arrested him,” Mohapatra said.

Kejriwal’s lawyers had petitioned the Supreme Court against his arrest but withdrew it on Friday (22) saying they would fight it in the city court first.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is investigating allegations that a liquor policy implemented by the Delhi government in 2022, which ended its control over sale of liquor, gave undue advantages to private retailers.

The policy was subsequently withdrawn and the AAP government has said no evidence of wrongdoing has emerged in the investigation.

AAP is part of the 27-member ‘INDIA’ bloc which has dismissed graft investigations against multiple opposition leaders as a politically-motivated smear campaign by the BJP, which runs the federal government that controls the Enforcement Directorate.

The federal government and BJP deny any political interference and say law enforcement agencies are doing their job.

Opposition leaders have condemned Kejriwal’s arrest and accused Modi of seeking to squeeze and weaken the opposition ahead of the elections.

On Thursday, the main opposition Congress party accused Modi of crippling it before the upcoming general election by freezing its accounts in an income tax case, charges BJP denied.

“The question is, is Arvind Kejriwal above the law of the land? Can he indulge in corruption and not face investigative agencies?” federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur posted on X. “The truth is before the country.”

(Reuters)

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