Arvind Kejriwal Arrested: A Major Modi Rival Faces Graft Charges Before Elections

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Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi and a high-profile rival to Narendra Modi, found himself behind bars this Thursday, a mere few weeks shy of India’s general elections—elections where the Prime Minister is gunning for his third consecutive term.

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The arrest, executed by India’s agency overseeing financial crimes, targeted Kejriwal, who is also an anti-graft crusader and the leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party). The allegations pivot around a controversial liquor policy pertaining to Delhi, which some claim benefitted private players.

This marks a historic first—no sitting chief minister has ever been arrested in India before Kejriwal.

Under scrutiny is a policy from 2022, introduced by Delhi’s government, which relinquished the state’s monopoly over liquor sales, allegedly tipping the scales in favor of private retailers. Despite the policy being rolled back and the AAP’s insistence on the absence of incriminating evidence, the investigation presses on.

Kejriwal’s arrest sends shockwaves through AAP and a larger opposition alliance that’s setting its sights on the BJP’s stronghold. In the upcoming April elections, which many predict Modi will clinch, Kejriwal is a linchpin in the opposition’s strategy to counter the populist tide.

Members of AAP are crying foul, suggesting that the arrest is a calculated move by the BJP to derail Kejriwal’s election campaign. They claim that the central government is manipulating federal agencies to intimidate and suppress dissenting voices.

Following the arrest, a wave of protests erupted, with several AAP supporters detained as they marched towards the court where Kejriwal was due.

Delhi’s finance minister, Atishi, who is known by her mononym, lambasted the arrest, branding it a ploy to “steal elections.”

Kejriwal’s rise from a tax official in East Delhi to a central figure in India’s anti-corruption narrative has been anything but conventional. He leveraged the Right to Information Act and insider whistleblowing to call out corruption at the highest echelons, including India’s towering political dynasties. While his allegations often didn’t lead to formal probes, they did stir the pot, prompting a national conversation on graft.

While the BJP and federal authorities deny any political motive, pointing to due process, AAP’s senior leadership finds itself largely incapacitated, caught up in the liquor policy case.

Kejriwal, who entered the political fray with the express goal of upending and transforming the status quo, has been dubbed both an opportunist and a naive idealist by critics. Yet, analysts recognize his daring foray into politics and the founding of AAP as bold moves toward systemic anti-corruption reform.

“It’s about confronting the system daily to cleanse it,” Kejriwal asserted at the onset of his political odyssey.

Atishi, among those detained, highlights Kejriwal as the opposition figure Modi fears most. “He’s prepared to govern from jail if that’s what it takes,” she declares.

Kejriwal’s tussle with the BJP isn’t new. His inaugural stint as Delhi’s chief minister in 2013 was short-lived at 49 days when he resigned over blockades to an anti-corruption bill. This resignation, perceived as a sacrifice for principle over power, set the stage for a landslide victory in the 2015 Delhi assembly elections.

The AAP-BJP rivalry took shape as the BJP secured the 2014 national elections and the AAP stunned with a Delhi victory in 2015, clinching 67 of 70 assembly seats.

The ongoing feud has seen Kejriwal and his party seek increased autonomy for Delhi’s governance, particularly after their 2015 triumph over the BJP, and clash with the central government over jurisdiction and the control exerted by the federally appointed lieutenant governor.

Kejriwal has been vocal about the BJP’s alleged interference in Delhi’s governance, claiming intimidation of officials and obstruction of his administration’s work.

As the face of the AAP’s opposition to the BJP, Kejriwal declared his party—not the historic Congress—as the primary challenger for the 2029 elections.

In response to the central government’s alleged attempts to dismantle AAP, the party launched a public support campaign in Delhi last December. With Manish Sisodia—Kejriwal’s deputy—already in jail on similar charges, the ED also summoned Kejriwal for questioning.

Amidst this backdrop, the “Mai Bhi Kejriwal” (I am Kejriwal) campaign emerged, rallying public opinion on whether Kejriwal should resign or lead from imprisonment, framing the BJP’s actions as politically motivated ahead of the elections.

The tussle continues, with AAP and the federal government locked in an extended blame game, each accusing the other of political machinations and undermining Delhi’s governance.

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