Protests against arrest of one of top rivals of Indian Prime Minister Modi continue for second day

AP , Saturday 23 Mar 2024

Hundreds of protesters in India's capital took to the streets for a second day Saturday, demanding the immediate release of one of the top rivals of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the country gears up for a national election next month.

Supporters of Aam Admi Party, or Common Man s Party, shouts slogans as they are detained by police d
Supporters of Aam Admi Party, or Common Man s Party, shout slogans as they are detained by police during a protest against the arrest of their party leader Arvind Kejriwal, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, March 23, 2024. AP


Arvind Kejriwal, New Delhi’s top elected official and one of the country’s most consequential politicians of the past decade, was arrested by the federal Enforcement Directorate Thursday night. The agency, controlled by Modi’s government, accused his party and ministers of accepting 1 billion rupees ($12 million) in bribes from liquor contractors nearly two years ago.

His Aam Aadmi Party, or Common People’s Party, denied the accusations and said Friday Kejriwal would remain Delhi’s chief minister as it took the matter to court.

Kejriwal was taken into custody for seven days following a court order on Friday.

Kejriwal’s wife, Sunita, had a message Saturday she said was from her detained husband. Posted on the AAP party X account, the message relayed Kerijwal as saying he wasn’t surprised by the arrest for he has “struggled a lot" and warning against “several forces within and outside India that are weakening the country."

Chanting: “Kejriwal is Modi’s doom” and “Dictatorship won’t be tolerated,” protesters accused Modi on Saturday of governing the country under a state of emergency — a claim the opposition has long professed — and using federal law enforcement agencies to stifle opposition parties before the election.

Lily Tiga, a protester, told The Associated Press that when “a person who does good, fights for truth, fights for the downtrodden and poor is arrested, it's not only unfortunate, it is a time to mourn for this country.”

On Friday, hundreds of AAP supporters and some senior party leaders clashed with the police, who whisked a number of them away in buses.

In the lead-up to the general election, starting April 19, India’s opposition parties have accused the government of misusing its power to harass and weaken its political opponents, pointing to a spree of raids, arrests, and corruption investigations against key opposition figures. Meanwhile, some probes against erstwhile opposition leaders who later defected to Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have been dropped.

Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, denies targeting the opposition and says law enforcement agencies act independently.

Kejriwal’s AAP is part of a broad alliance of opposition parties called INDIA, the main challenger to Modi’s BJP in the coming election.

His arrest is another setback for the bloc and came after the country's main opposition Congress party accused the government Thursday of freezing its bank accounts in a tax dispute to cripple it. This has led to a rare show of strength by the opposition figures who slammed the move as undemocratic and accused Modi’s party of misusing the agency to undermine them.

In 2023, the agency arrested Kejriwal’s deputy, Manish Sisodia, and AAP lawmaker Sanjay Singh as part of the same case. Both remain in jail.

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