Advertisement

An Indian court sends a top opposition leader to jail until shortly before election

NEW DELHI (AP) — A court in India on Monday placed a top opposition leader in two weeks of judicial detention after his 10 days in the custody of a federal agency expired, in a case that opposition parties say is part of a crackdown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on rivals ahead of a national election later this month.

Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man's Party, is the top elected official in the city of New Delhi and one of the country’s most consequential politicians of the past decade.

He was arrested by the federal Enforcement Directorate, India's main financial investigation agency, on March 21. The agency, controlled by Modi’s government, accused Kejriwal’s party and ministers of accepting 1 billion rupees ($12 million) in bribes from liquor contractors nearly two years ago. The arrest triggered days of protests by hundreds of party activists supported by other opposition parties.

The Aam Aadmi Party denied the accusations and said Kejriwal will remain as New Delhi’s chief minister as it fights the case in court. The party is part of a broad alliance of opposition parties called INDIA, which is the main challenger to Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party in the coming elections.

A day after Kejriwal's arrest, the court remanded him to six days of custody by the Enforcement Directorate for investigation that was extended by another four days on Thursday. With the expiration of that detention on Monday, the New Delhi court ordered him held in judicial custody until April 15.

The directorate asked the court for Kejriwal's judicial custody, according to Bar and Bench, an online portal for Indian legal news. It cited S.V. Raju, a government attorney representing the directorate in court, as saying that Kejriwal's “conduct has been totally non-cooperative” and the directorate could seek his custody again for further investigation at a later stage.

It said it was the first time that a chief minister in India has been arrested while in office.

The Aam Aadmi Party’s legal counsel, Sanjeev Nasiar, told reporters that Kejriwal now has the right to apply for bail.

Kejriwal’s case has dominated the news in India ahead of the general election, which starts April 19. Opposition parties say the government is misusing federal investigation agencies to harass and weaken its political opponents. They point to a series of raids, arrests and corruption investigations of key opposition figures. Recently, the opposition Congress party accused the government of crippling the party by freezing its bank accounts in a tax dispute.

Modi's party denies using law enforcement agencies to target the opposition and says the agencies act independently.

Kejriwal’s arrest is seen as another setback for the opposition bloc. On Sunday, the bloc launched its election campaign with a massive rally in New Delhi at which opposition leaders criticized the arrest of Kejriwal and other colleagues.

The federal agency has accused Kejriwal of being the “kingpin and key conspirator” in the liquor bribery case. Kejriwal has denied the allegations and accused the directorate of “manipulating investigative agencies for political motives.”

Kejriwal also has called his arrest “a political conspiracy.”

Before his arrest, Kejriwal skipped nine summons issued to him by the directorate. His deputy, Manish Sisodia, and another party lawmaker, Sanjay Singh, were arrested in the same case in 2023 by the federal agency and are currently in judicial custody.