India opposition says leader’s arrest ‘decay of democracy’

Indian opposition leaders across political parties have strongly condemned the arrest of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Mr Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), was arrested on Thursday in connection with corruption allegations relating to the city’s policies over alcohol sales.

Mr Kejriwal has denied any wrongdoing. He will be produced in court on Friday.

Opposition leaders have alleged that his arrest is politically motivated.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has denied the allegation and say that it is merely acting against corruption.

Mr Kejriwal’s arrest by a financial crimes agency comes as a blow to the opposition just weeks before India’s general elections. AAP is part of the 27-party INDIA alliance aiming to challenge the BJP.

Getty Images NEW DELHI, INDIA – MARCH 21: Congress party Leader Rahul Gandhi during a Special press conference over freezing of Congress party’s bank accounts at the Congress party headquarters on March 21, 2024 in New Delhi, India. In February, the income tax department seized the party’s four main bank accounts on an income tax demand of 210 crore for 2018-19. Income Tax Appellate Tribunal dismissed the grand old party’s application.(Photo by Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via
Rahul Gandhi has called the arrest an attack on India’s democratic principles
Alluding to Mr Modi, Rahul Gandhi of the main opposition Congress party wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Thursday evening: “A scared dictator wants to create a dead democracy.”

“The arrest of elected Chief Ministers has become a common thing,” Mr Gandhi wrote.

Sharad Pawar, leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (Sharadchandra Pawar) said that Mr Kejriwal’s arrest showcases the “depth to which BJP will stoop for power”.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said Mr Kejriwal’s arrest would “give birth to a new people’s revolution”.

“BJP knows that it will not come to power again, due to this fear, it wants to remove the opposition leaders from the public by any means at the time of elections, arrest is just an excuse,” he posted on X.

AFP Supporters of the Aam Aadmi Party shout slogans in front of the home of Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal after he was arrested in a corruption case by the Enforcement Directorate in New Delhi on March 21,
Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister of Kerala, said Mr Kejriwal’s arrest “outright vicious and part of a callous plot to silence all opposition voices just ahead of the general elections”.

His counterpart in Tamil Nadu, M K Stalin, said: “Not a single BJP leader faces scrutiny or arrest, laying bare their abuse of power and the decay of democracy.”

“The relentless persecution of opposition leaders by the BJP government smacks of a desperate witch-hunt. This tyranny ignites public fury, unmasking BJP’s true colours,” Mr Stalin said.

In the past year or so, several opposition leaders have been imprisoned, questioned or had cases filed against them by federal agencies.

K Kavitha, leader of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), was arrested in the same case as Mr Kejriwal just days ago. She denies the allegations.

In January, Hemant Soren, former Jharkhand chief minister and leader of the opposition Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), was arrested by a federal tax agency on charges of money laundering and land-grabbing. Mr Soren denies the allegations.

Mr Gandhi himself was convicted of criminal libel last year after a complaint by a member of the BJP.

His two year prison sentence saw him disqualified from parliament for a time until the verdict was suspended by a higher court in August last year.

Getty Images Supporters of the Aam Aadmi Party shout slogans in front of the home of Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal after he was arrested in a corruption case by the Enforcement Directorate in New Delhi on March 21, 2024.Getty Images
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Hemant Soren was arrested by the tax agency in January
On Thursday, the Congress party accused Mr Modi’s government of using the tax department to starve them of finances ahead of elections.

Mr Kejriwal is the third AAP leader to be arrested over the alleged corruption case related to a now-scrapped liquor policy in Delhi.

The Enforcement Directorate also arrested Mr Kejriwal’s deputy, Manish Sisodia, and AAP lawmaker Sanjay Singh in the same case last year.

Since coming to power in Delhi in 2013, AAP secured significant victories in Punjab’s state elections in 2022 and gained a few seats in Mr Modi’s home state of Gujarat in the same year.

<<BBC>>