Modi rival to remain in jail until just before Indian election

A prominent Indian opposition leader has been sent to jail for two more weeks, keeping him locked up until just a few days before the start of the country’s general elections.

Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi and a rival to prime minister Narendra Modi, was arrested in a late-night swoop by police on 21 March after he skipped nine summons by the Enforcement Directorate.

The agency, which investigates financial crimes and is controlled by Mr Modi’s central government, has accused Mr Kejriwal of accepting 1bn rupees ($12m) in bribes from contractors allegedly favoured by a liquor policy introduced by Delhi’s state administration in 2021. The policy has since been scrapped.

On Monday, a Delhi court granted the Enforcement Directorate’s application to send Mr Kejriwal to judicial custody. The ED complained that the chief minister was being “uncooperative” with its investigation. He was giving evasive answers and not revealing the passwords of his digital devices, the agency told the court.

Mr Kejriwal will now remain in jail until 15 April.

His arrest has been protested by opposition leaders as an act of “political vendetta” by Mr Modi ahead of the election, which begins on 19 April and will determine whether Mr Modi lands a rare third term as prime minister.

Mr Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party is part of a broad opposition alliance called INDIA, the primary challenger to Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. Supporters of AAP have been organising street demonstrations to protest their leader’s arrest in Delhi and several cities in northern India.

As he appeared in court on Monday, Mr Kejriwal called his arrest a “political conspiracy” and emphasised that no court has ever found him guilty of corruption even though federal agencies have filed multiple chargesheets running into thousands of pages against him.

"The CBI has filed 31,000 pages and ED has filed 25,000 pages. Even if you read them together...the question remains...why have I been arrested?" he asked at the last court hearing, according to the Indian news channel NDTV. CBI is the Central Bureau of Investigation, which is also controlled by Mr Modi’s government.

Monday’s hearing was attended by Mr Kejriwal’s aides from AAP and his wife Sunita Kejriwal, who has been holding press conferences in the chief minister’s absence.

AAP has said that Mr Kejriwal will continue to run the Delhi administration from prison.

His lawyers have requested the court to allow three books to be sent inside the prison – Hindu epics Ramayana and Bhagvad Gita, and How Prime Ministers Decide by Neerja Chowdhury – as well as a religious pendant. They have also requested a special diet for the chief minister in view of his health issues.

Mr Kejriwal is among dozens of politicians, including his former deputy, who have faced a crackdown by Mr Modi’s federal government before the national election. A few weeks ago, the primary opposition Congress party said income tax officials had frozen its bank accounts as part of Mr Modi’s agenda to “kill democracy”.