Modi appears to now be having opposition politicians arrested

  • Post last modified:March 22, 2024
  • Reading time:6 mins read

A top Indian opposition politician, Arvind Kejriwal, was remanded in custody on Friday 22 March following his overnight arrest. Supporters say the case shows prime minister Narendra Modi trying to sideline challengers before next month’s election.

Modi: locking up his opposition?

Kejriwal, chief minister of the capital Delhi and a key leader in an opposition alliance formed to compete against Modi in the polls, was detained late on Thursday 21 March in connection with a long-running corruption probe.

He is among several leaders of the bloc under criminal investigation and one of his colleagues described his arrest as a “political conspiracy” orchestrated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Kejriwal was brought before a New Delhi court on 22 March which ruled he should stay remanded in the custody of the Enforcement Directorate, India’s main financial crimes investigation agency, until at least 28 March:

“My life is dedicated to the country, whether I am inside or outside,” Kejriwal told reporters while being led into the courtroom before the hearing began.

Shadan Farasat, a member of Kejriwal’s legal team, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that colleagues were considering their next course of action after the ruling.

Other political parties in India have issued statements:


Kejriwal’s centre-left Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man Party, AAP), maintains that Kejriwal has not resigned his office as chief minister despite his arrest. Delhi education minister Atishi Marlena Singh said:

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

Hundreds of supporters from Kejriwal’s AAP took to the streets to condemn the leader’s arrest. Police broke up one crowd of protesters who attempted to block a busy traffic intersection. Several demonstrators were detained, including Singh and health minister Saurabh Bhardwaj:

Rallies in support of Kejriwal were held in numerous other big cities around India.

Kejriwal’s government was accused of corruption when it implemented a policy to liberalise the sale of liquor in 2021 and give up a lucrative government stake in the sector. The policy was withdrawn the following year. However, the resulting probe into the alleged corrupt allocation of licences has since seen the jailing of two top Kejriwal allies.

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

The ‘decay of democracy’

Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin, a fellow member of the opposition bloc, said Kejriwal’s arrest “smacks of a desperate witch-hunt”:

Not a single BJP leader faces scrutiny or arrest, laying bare their abuse of power and the decay of democracy.

But Rajeev Chandrashekhar, a minister in Modi’s government, said the opposition’s reaction to Kejriwal’s arrest had been “extremely mystifying”:

Arvind Kejriwal should understand… that the law and the consequences of violating the law don’t stop just because you are a political leader.

Modi’s political opponents and international rights groups have long sounded the alarm on India’s shrinking democratic space. US think-tank Freedom House said this year that the BJP had “increasingly used government institutions to target political opponents”.

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.

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

Modi: ‘undermining and sabotaging’

Kejriwal and Gandhi are both members of an opposition alliance composed of more than two dozen parties that is jointly contesting India’s national election, which is running from April to June.

A delegation from the bloc met with India’s election commission on 22 March to condemn what they said were deliberate efforts to undermine the opposition’s campaign. Congress politician Abhishek Manu Singhvi said:

It is a larger issue of impairing, undermining and sabotaging the basic structure of the Indian constitution.

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

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

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via DB Live – YouTube

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