Advertisement

Delhi chief arrested as opposition party alleges ‘huge conspiracy’ ahead of Indian election

A key Indian opposition leader was arrested by authorities on Thursday over an alleged corruption case, in a move his allies claimed was politically motivated just weeks before the country votes in the world’s largest democratic election.

Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi chief minister and one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fiercest critics, was taken into custody following a raid on his home in the capital by the federal financial crimes agency, members of his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) said, marking the latest blow to an alliance of parties aiming to unseat Modi as he seeks a third consecutive term.

Kejriwal’s arrest comes as tensions run high ahead of the crucial election, in which Modi is widely expected to leave the opposition languishing despite sharp criticism over his perceived erosion of the country’s democratic founding principles.

Kejriwal and the AAP stand accused of favoring certain alcohol dealers and using unlawful money to fund an election campaign in relation to his implementation of a now-scrapped liquor policy. The chief minister has denied the allegations and his party alleged there is a “huge conspiracy” behind his arrest.

Two other AAP leaders have previously been arrested over the same case and Kejriwal has repeatedly accused Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of using federal agencies to target the opposition.

AAP workers staged protests outside Kejriwal’s house Thursday, chanting slogans and blocking roads as he was taken away by officers from the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

“This shows that today the ED is not an independent investigative agency,” said AAP politician Atishi Singh. “It is a political weapon of the BJP.”

Kejriwal will “remain the chief minister of Delhi” during any legal process, she said.

On Friday, Singh and several other AAP members were detained by police while protesting Kejriwal’s arrest.

CNN has reached out to Kejriwal’s lawyer and the ED for comment.

Senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad defended the action of the financial crime agency, telling local media that “this is a process of law which is being done with a view to taking appropriate action against corruption. We will only say, let the law take its course.”

Aam Aadmi Party supporters protest as Enforcement Directorate personnel arrive to arrest their leader Arvind Kejriwal at his home in New Delhi, India, on March 21, 2024. - AP
Aam Aadmi Party supporters protest as Enforcement Directorate personnel arrive to arrest their leader Arvind Kejriwal at his home in New Delhi, India, on March 21, 2024. - AP

Political showdown

With its origins in an anti-corruption street movement and a broom as its symbol, the Aam Aadmi Party, or the Common Man’s Party, rose to power in Delhi with a roaring majority in 2015, winning a second term five years later.

Kejriwal, a former tax commissioner, was elected chief minister, ending 15 years of Congress party rule. His message of eradicating corruption resonated across the demographic spectrum – from the poor living in slums to the middle class – and his local government vowed to upgrade the capital’s water, health and education services.

Though the AAP remains comparatively small at a national level, its control of the capital remains a source of deep irritation for Modi’s BJP as Kejriwal has become one of the most recognizable opposition figures to fiercely challenge the ruling party.

The AAP will contest the general election as a partner in an alliance formed by 26 opposition political parties.

Delhi's chief minister Arvind Kejriwal addresses a public rally in Guwahati on April 2, 2023. - Biju Boro/AFP/Getty Images/File
Delhi's chief minister Arvind Kejriwal addresses a public rally in Guwahati on April 2, 2023. - Biju Boro/AFP/Getty Images/File

Kejriwal’s arrest came hours after India’s main opposition, the Indian National Congress, accused the BJP of using the tax department to “cripple” their finances. The party claimed their bank accounts had been frozen by the tax department, leaving them unable to use some $20 million in funds.

“We cannot do our campaign work. We cannot support our workers and candidates. Our leaders cannot travel from one part of the country to the other. We’re unable to put out our ads,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi told a news conference in Delhi.

“This is being done two months before the election campaign. This is a criminal action against the Congress party, done by the PM and the Home Minister. It is being orchestrated to cripple us before the elections.”

BJP president J.P. Nadda said the Congress was “conveniently blaming their irrelevance on ‘financial troubles,’” in a post on social media platform X, while defending the tax department.

Many of India’s main opposition leaders rallied to Kejriwal’s defense Thursday and condemned his arrest.

“A scared dictator wants to create a dead democracy,” Gandhi wrote on X. “Capturing all the institutions including the media, breaking up the parties, extorting money from companies, freezing the account of the main opposition party was not enough… now the arrest of the elected Chief Ministers has also become a common thing.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Sania Farooqui and Sugam Pokharel contributed reporting.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com