India's opposition jubilant as Modi critic Kejriwal gets bail to campaign in elections

By Sakshi Dayal and YP Rajesh

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India's top court gave temporary bail to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in a graft case on Friday, allowing him to campaign in the ongoing general elections, boosting the opposition alliance of which he is a prominent figure.

The Supreme Court said Kejriwal - a fierce critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi - would be out on bail until June 1, the last day of the nationwide seven-phase vote, and would have to return to pre-trial detention on June 2.

India began voting on April 19 and elections for more than half of the 543 seats in parliament have now been completed following the third phase of the vote on May 7.

The two areas governed by Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) - the National Capital Territory that includes New Delhi, and the northern state of Punjab - go to the polls on May 25 and June 1 respectively.

Votes will be counted on June 4 and results are expected to be announced the same day.

"It feels good to be back among you," Kejriwal, dressed in a dark collarless T-shirt, told supporters through the sun-roof of a vehicle soon after being released from Delhi's Tihar jail.

Thousands of AAP supporters had gathered waving the party's yellow and blue flags, setting off firecrackers, shouting slogans and distributing sweets.

"I have only one request for you, we have to come together to save the country from dictatorship," Kejriwal said. "I am fighting with everything I have against this dictatorship. But 1.4 billion people will have to fight dictatorship," he said, referring to India's huge population.

The court had said last week that it may consider granting Kejriwal temporary bail "because of the elections" while it heard an appeal against his arrest, as that hearing could take a while to conclude.

Opposition parties have accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government of using investigative agencies to hurt its rivals, which the government denies.

Over the years Kejriwal has accused Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of damaging democracy, promoting corruption, throttling governance in Delhi, abusing their power and attacking the federal structure of the constitution among other things.


BJP spokesperson Shazia Ilmi said the party has always respected the verdicts of the highest court.

"Kejriwal will not be able to play the victim card. He can't say that he is being discriminated against, that all the agencies and courts are against him," she told ANI news agency, in which Reuters has a minority stake.

"Secondly, and importantly, he has got interim bail, not freedom. He has to go back to jail on June 2," Ilmi added.

The Enforcement Directorate, India's financial crime-fighting agency, arrested Kejriwal on March 21 in connection with corruption allegations related to the capital territory's liquor policy.

Kejriwal's government and his AAP have denied the allegations. Modi and BJP say the investigating agencies are only doing their job and the government is not influencing them.

Kejriwal has been in pre-trial detention since April 1, and his wife Sunita has stepped in to campaign for his decade-old party which has been hobbled by the detention also of two other senior leaders in the same case.

Members of the INDIA alliance of more than two dozen opposition parties - Modi's main challenger which includes the AAP - said they were pleased that Kejriwal had received bail.

Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the eastern state of West Bengal and a key INDIA member, said she was "very happy" Kejriwal got bail. "It will be very helpful in the context of the current elections," she posted on X.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Kejriwal's lawyer, had argued that Kejriwal was arrested just before the vote to stop him from campaigning against Modi, who opinion polls suggest will win a comfortable majority and secure a rare third straight term.

ED lawyers argued that giving bail to a politician just to campaign risked sending the message that there were different standards for such figures compared with other citizens.

(Reporting by Sakshi Dayal and YP Rajesh; Additional reporting by Arpan Chaturvedi; Editing by Hugh Lawson)