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Thousands attend a rally in India’s capital to challenge Prime Minister Modi ahead of elections

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NEW DELHI (AP) — Thousands of people on Sunday attended a rally by an alliance of India’s opposition parties that criticized the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of stifling opponents and undermining democratic institutions ahead of a national election next month.

The “Save Democracy” rally was the first major public demonstration by the opposition bloc INDIA against the arrest of New Delhi’s top elected official and opposition leader Arvind Kejriwal on March 21.

Kejriwal was arrested by the federal Enforcement Directorate, which is controlled by Modi’s government, on charges that his party and state ministers had accepted 1 billion rupees ($12 million) in bribes from liquor contractors nearly two years ago. The Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man’s Party, denied the accusations and has said Kejriwal would remain as New Delhi’s chief minister while the court decides on the next step.

“This battle is to safeguard the nation, democracy, constitution, future of the nation, youth, farmers and women. This battle is for justice and truth,” Deepender Singh Hooda, a lawmaker of the opposition Congress party, told reporters at the rally.

Kejriwal’s arrest is seen as a setback for the opposition bloc that is the main challenger to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, in the elections to be held over six weeks starting April 19.

Opposition leaders have criticized Kejriwal’s arrest as undemocratic and accused the BJP of using the federal agency to undermine them, pointing to a series of arrests and corruption investigations against key opposition figures.

The BJP denies targeting the opposition and says law enforcement agencies act independently.

“Narendra Modi wants to strangle democracy and take away the option from the people to choose the government of their choice,” opposition leader Rahul Gandhi from the Congress party, who took part in Sunday’s rally, wrote on X.

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