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Modi’s main opponent Kejriwal held in graft probe ahead of Indian elections

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The top politician in India’s capital New Delhi was arrested Thursday in a graft probe his supporters say is aimed at sidelining opponents to Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of national elections.

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Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister and a key leader in an opposition alliance challenging Modi in next month’s polls, was detained after several hours of questioning by the Enforcement Directorate, India’s main financial crimes agency.

Kejriwal’s government has been accused of corruption in the allocation of private liquor licenses and a probe in the matter has already seen two of his top allies jailed.

Delhi education minister Atishi Marlena Singh confirmed the arrest and said Kejriwal remained the state’s chief minister.

“We made it clear from the beginning that if needed, Arvind Kejriwal will run the government from jail,” she said.

She described his arrest as a “political conspiracy” orchestrated by Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“I want to tell Prime Minister Modi that Arvind Kejriwal is not just a human but an idea,” Singh said. “If you think that by arresting one Arvind Kejriwal you can finish that idea, you are wrong.”

She also said Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was seeking a court intervention to quash the arrest.

“We have asked for an urgent hearing by the Supreme Court tonight itself,” Singh posted Thursday on X, formerly Twitter.

Several angry supporters gathered in front of Kejriwal’s home and shouted slogans, as security forces looked on.

Kejriwal’s administration introduced a controversial policy to liberalise the sale of liquor in 2021 by inviting private players to set up stores, ending a government monopoly.

The policy was withdrawn in 2022 and the resulting probe into the alleged corrupt allocation of licences saw the jailing of two senior members of the AAP.

Kejriwal, 55, who has been chief minister for nearly a decade and first came to office as a staunch anti-corruption crusader, had resisted multiple summons from the Enforcement Directorate to be interrogated as part of the probe.

Virendra Sachdeva, the head of the BJP’s Delhi office, said Kejriwal had been “making excuses” to avoid explaining his role in the case.

“The kind of political theatrics he was doing has been put to an end today,” Sachdeva said. “Today finally the truth has won.”

‘Our ability to fight’

Kejriwal is among several prominent opposition leaders subject to criminal investigations that supporters say are aimed at hobbling opponents of the BJP.

Rahul Gandhi, the most prominent member of the opposition Congress party and scion of a dynasty that dominated Indian politics for decades, was convicted of criminal libel last year after a complaint by a member of Modi’s party.

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His two-year prison sentence saw him disqualified from parliament for a time until the verdict was suspended by a higher court, but raised concerns over democratic norms in the world’s most populous country.

Congress leaders called a press conference Thursday to announce that an ongoing investigation into its tax filings had left its bank accounts frozen and the party bereft of funds.

“We have no money to campaign, we cannot support our candidates,” Gandhi told reporters. “Our ability to fight elections has been damaged.”

Gandhi also took to social media to blast the arrest of Kejriwal, taking a veiled swipe at the country’s leadership.

“A scared dictator wants to create a dead democracy,” he posted on X.

Kejriwal’s party and Congress are members of a broad opposition alliance aimed at jointly contesting national elections running between April and June.

But even without the criminal investigations targeting its most prominent leaders, few expect the bloc to make inroads against Modi, who remains roundly popular a decade after first taking office.

Many analysts have treated Modi’s reelection as a foregone conclusion, partly due to the resonance of his assertive Hindu-nationalist politics with the members of the country’s majority faith.

(AFP)

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