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Supporters of arrested Indian opposition politician protest in New Delhi

Supporters of arrested Indian opposition politician protest in New Delhi
NEW DELHI (AP) — Supporters of an anti-corruption crusader and one of India’s most consequential politicians of the last decade in India held protests Friday against his arrest, which opposition parties say is part of a crackdown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government before national elections.

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

Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, or Common People’s Party, denied the accusations and said they were fabricated. The party said Kejriwal will continue to be Delhi’s chief minister while it fights the accusations in court.

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

The opposition has long claimed it has been unfairly targeted and in a manner that undermines India’s democratic principles.

The agency arrested Kejriwal’s deputy Manish Sisodia and AAP lawmaker Sanjay Singh in the same case last year.

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

“This is dictatorship. All this is done to win the national polls,” said AAP leader Saurabh Bharadwaj, referring to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

Kejriwal’s AAP is part of a broad alliance of opposition parties called INDIA, the main challenger to Modi’s BJP in the elections to be held in April-June.

His arrest is another setback for the bloc, and came after the Congress party accused the government on Thursday of crippling the party by feeezing its bank accounts in a tax dispute. But it has also also 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 weaken them.

“A scared dictator wants to create a dead democracy,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said about the arrest in a post on X. “India is under an undeclared Emergency,” said Raghav Chadha, a lawmaker from the AAP.

The Enforcement Directorate has investigated many key opposition leaders and others have faced a variety of legal sanctions.

In January, the agency arrested Hemant Soren, until then the chief minister of eastern Jharkhand state, for allegedly facilitating an illegal land sale. Soren’s party deny the accusations.

Gandhi was convicted of criminal libel last year after a complaint by a member of Modi’s party. A two-year prison sentence disqualified from parliament for a time until the verdict was suspended by a higher court.

Kejriwal launched the AAP in 2012 and campaigned on a promise to rid the Indian political system and governance of corruption and inefficiency. The party’s symbol — a broom — and its promise to sweep the administration of graft struck a chord with Delhi residents.

The party won the Delhi state legislature election a year later, when he became the chief minister, a feat he repeated in 2015 and 2020.

Kejriwal’s party also governs northern Punjab state.


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