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Indian opposition parties rally behind jailed Delhi leader Arvind Kejriwal’s wife during mega gathering

Indian opposition parties rally behind jailed Delhi leader Arvind Kejriwal’s wife during mega gathering

Indian opposition parties united on Sunday to rally behind the wife of Modi critic and Delhi’s top leader Arvind Kejriwal as she addressed a mega gathering of supporters in the capital to protest against her husband’s incarceration on graft charges.

Jailed Delhi chief minister Kejriwal’s wife, Sunita Kejriwal, addressed the massive rally in Delhi which saw a turnout of thousands of people, just weeks ahead of the upcoming national elections.

Ms Kejriwal, who was joined by several prominent politicians challenging the Narendra Modi government together in the polls beginning in April, read out a message sent by her jailed husband.

“The people of India stand with Arvind Kejriwal. He can’t be kept in jail forever,” she said in her first major political speech.

“I am not asking for votes from you. I am not asking you to help defeat someone in elections. I am only asking 140 crore Indians to help in taking this country forward,” Ms Kejriwal said, quoting her husband’s message from jail.

Her husband, the chief of Aam Aadmi Party (or common man’s party), along with his top aides, was arrested by the central-government controlled anti-crime agency, Enforcement Directorate.

The Delhi leader was arrested on charges that his party and state ministers had accepted 1 billion rupees (£9.5m) in bribes from liquor contractors nearly two years ago.

Mr Kejriwal was the first sitting chief-minister to get arrested, and the case was largely seen as politically motivated, with the US State Department and Germany reacting to his detention.

State Department spokesperson, Mathew Miller, said on Wednesday the US was closely following Mr Kejriwal’s arrest and actions taken against opposition parties in India, calling for a “ fair, transparent, timely legal processes”.

Last week, the German foreign ministry said it hoped that Mr Kejriwal would get a “fair and impartial trial as India is a democratic nation”.

The rally, termed “Save Democracy”, was organised by the joint opposition alliance of over 20 parties, called INDIA, which is challenging Mr Modi in the upcoming national elections starting from 19 April.

While all opinion polls point to a landslide victory of Mr Modi for a third term, the rally was being seen as the way for opposition leaders to showcase their sway over the public.

Hemant Soren, another former chief minister from the opposition party Congress, is also in jail. Referring to the arrests, Rahul Gandhi, who is often seen as the principle challenger to Mr Modi, gave a cricket analogy of “match fixing” ahead of elections.

“Two players from our team have been arrested before the match,” he told the crowd,

“This election – in which Narendra Modi chose the umpires – this 400-seat slogan of his is not possible without fixing EVMs, pressuring the media and social media,” he added.

AAP had earlier called for countrywide protests with the top politicians of the party descending on the capital on Friday.

People belonging to the party, including ministers and cabinet members, were detained by the Delhi Police during their protest.

Mr Kejriwal’s arrest had sparked concerns over a constitutional crisis in India as Delhi remains to be governed by a chief minister behind the bar. Meanwhile, the opposition has claimed India is under an “undeclared emergency”.

Critics of the Modi government have accused the Hindu nationalist government of weaponising law enforcement agencies against political rivals to intimidate and weaken them ahead of elections.

A slew of politicians have faced legal challenges with some arrested and others convicted.

Hours before Mr Kejriwal’s arrest on 21 March, India’s main opposition Congress party also held a press conference saying that its bank accounts had been frozen by the tax department ahead of the general elections.

The BJP denies targeting the opposition and says law enforcement agencies act independently.

Ms Kejriwal also read out “six guarantees” her husband promised for votes. These ranged from promising free electricity for poor, a key message for AAP’s Delhi campaign as well that brought him to power, to promising schools and local clinics.

She also promised a fixed “minimum support price” for farmers, a key issue in the ongoing farmers protests that have erupted for the second time in India, and statehood for Delhi.

“We will fulfil all these guarantees in five years,” she added.