‘Dead democracy’: Will Arvind Kejriwal’s incarceration unite India’s opposition?

This is New Delhi, India. Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi, was taken into custody by India’s Financial Crime Investigation Agency on Thursday night. This event has resulted in nearly uniform criticism from the country’s weak opposition, with some leaders threatening a “revolution” of the people against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Kejriwal’s detention comes on the footsteps of similar arrests of opposition leaders and raids on their houses by law enforcement authorities. These arrests occurred just a few weeks before the first round of India’s massive seven-phase national elections. The Congress, which is the largest opposition party in India, announced on Thursday morning that it was unable to continue campaigning because all of its bank accounts had been frozen in connection with a tax issue that is still continuing.
In addition, the most recent arrest has caused Delhi, the capital of India, to experience a constitutional crisis that has never been seen before. This is the first time that Delhi’s former chief minister has been taken into custody. In an interview with Al Jazeera, a spokeswoman for Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) stated that the party leader would not quit and would instead “run the government from jail.” The spokesperson referred to the conduct of Modi as “dirty politics” because it was based on a “bogus case.”

A liquor policy that was introduced by Kejriwal’s government in 2022 has been the subject of an investigation by India’s Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is looking into claims of corruption. It is alleged that the regulation provided private retailers with excessive benefits, which resulted in the arrest of ministers, bureaucrats, and an executive from the Indian division of the French liquor company Pernod Ricard.
In the weeks leading up to his detention, Kejriwal, who was 55 years old at the time, had been called in for questioning nine times. When asked to appear before the authorities, the chief minister declined to do so. As a result, he is now joining the ranks of practically the entire senior leadership of his party, which includes former ministers Satyendar Jain and Sanjay Singh, as well as former deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia. This presents further difficulties for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is in charge of two states that are dominated by the opposition: Delhi and Punjab.

Dead democracy': Will Arvind Kejriwal's arrest unite India's opposition? |  India Election 2024 News | Al Jazeera

Both the AAP and the Modi government have refuted allegations of any kind of political vendetta, while the AAP has always dismissed allegations of corruption.

“The Prime Minister is able to do anything he pleases. According to a statement that was provided to Al Jazeera by Saurabh Bharadwaj, the health minister of Delhi and a close aide of Kejriwal, “So far, they have arrested two chief ministers, and it is possible that they can arrest more chief ministers.”
Hemant Soren was taken into custody by the CBI on charges of corruption a month ago, just a few hours after he tendering his resignation as the chief minister of the state of Jharkhand. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, which is led by Soren, is a member of the opposition alliance in India, together with the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress. This alliance has the objective of challenging the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2018 elections, in which the latter seeks to gain a third term in office.

Some observers, on the other hand, believe that the arrests could prove to be politically costly for Modi and the BJP. They could potentially galvanize support for the leaders who are being targeted, and they could also bring together an opposition that is otherwise divided into greater solidarity against the shared prospect of a crackdown on all of them.

‘Common man’ to ‘martyr’?

While the agency questioned Kejriwal on Thursday before his arrest, Devender Singh, a 34-year-old staffer for the Aam Aadmi Party, joined hundreds of other demonstrators who had gathered near the residence of the chief minister in Delhi. “This is not representative of the democratic system in India,” he stated to Al Jazeera. “What is going through Modi’s mind about the fact that he is harassing and torturing an elected chief minister in broad daylight?”

Singh made this statement in the midst of a growing police presence and slogans bemoaning the “death of democracy.” “The first time I voted for Kejriwal, I was campaigning for him,” Singh stated the following time. “The government is afraid of any alternatives, and as a result, it is conducting a witch hunt against opposition leaders,” he declared further.

AAP, which is a Hindi word that means “common man’s party,” was established by Kejriwal in 2011 while he was on a crusade against corruption. In the subsequent elections to a 70-member legislature, he won 67 and 62 seats, respectively, in 2015 and 2020, so achieving resounding electoral victories over the BJP, which was a poll-strong candidate in both of those elections.

On the other hand, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won all seven seats in the Delhi legislature in the national election that took place in 2019. According to analysts who spoke with Al Jazeera, the voter bases of the two parties exhibit some degree of commonality, notably on aspects of Hindu majoritarianism.
A political commentator named Asim Ali stated that the Modi government runs the risk of alienating voters who are indecisive between the BJP and the AAP if it continues to close in on Kejriwal. This is because the Modi government runs the risk of portraying itself as dictatorial and arrogant. There is a possibility that they will continue to support the AAP out of sympathy, or perhaps vote for Congress out of spite.

He stated that the BJP runs the risk of turning Kejriwal into a martyr when they do this.

Under Modi’s leadership, India has experienced a decline in respect to international democratic indices as a result of the arrests and raids of opposition leaders, critics, and journalists. The reports have been deemed unreliable by the government, which states that it intends to create its own index in the near future.

“[The arrests] demonstrate the desperation of the Indian authorities and a blatant disregard for human rights,” Aakar Patel, chair of the board of Amnesty International in India, said in an interview with Al Jazeera. “What we are witnessing is a government that is increasingly consolidating its power by consistently weaponizing laws and central financial agencies at the expense of the people – and rights – that it considers to be expendable,”

Since the election of Modi as Prime Minister in 2014, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is India’s most prominent investigative agency, and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have taken on 95 percent of the cases that have been brought against politicians from the opposition. When compared to the days of the previous government, which was led by Congress and ruled from 2004 to 2014, this implies an increase of sixty percentage points for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and fifty-four percentage points for the Economic Development (ED).

“It is imperative that all state institutions function properly and with complete respect for human rights,” Patel added. “This includes the Enforcement Directorate, the Election Commission, and the justice system.” Patel’s statement was made in order to ensure that the Indian population is able to fully and fairly exercise their civil and political rights prior to, during, and after the general election.

Arvind Kejriwal Skips 6th Summons, AAP Says Wait For Court Decision

‘INDIA will give befitting reply’

Additionally, Kejriwal’s arrest triggered a wave of condemnation from political parties who are in opposition to the INDIA bloc. These parties include those that have moved away from the INDIA bloc in the past few weeks.

A few minutes after the arrest, Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Congress party, made the following statement: “A scared dictator wants to create a dead democracy.”

The Trinamool Congress, which is the ruling party in the eastern state of West Bengal and has recently made the decision to run for the national election on its own, after having been a member of the INDIA coalition in the past, has also voiced its disapproval of the arrest.

In the event that sitting chief ministers and key opposition leaders are imprisoned weeks before elections, how can we possibly expect elections in India to be fair? Derek O’Brien, the head of the Trinamool, was asked on X.

A “fascist” step was termed by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, MK Stalin, in reference to the arrest. Pinarayi Vijayan, the Chief Minister of Kerala, stated that the arrest was “outright vicious and part of a callous plot to silence all opposition voices just weeks before the general elections.” Both Vijayan’s Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Stalin’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam are considered to be members of the INDIA bloc on the political spectrum.

According to Akhilesh Yadav, a former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh whose Samajwadi Party is also a member of the INDIA group, the arrest of Kejriwal will “give birth to a new people’s revolution.” During the upcoming elections, he stated that the arrests of opposition leaders demonstrated that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was “imprisoned in the fear of defeat.”

The majority of opinion surveys indicate that Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are well positioned to achieve a comfortable victory in the elections. The Prime Minister of India has set a target of 400 seats in India’s lower house, which is comprised of 543 seats, for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which the company leads. In 2019, the NDA was successful in gaining 353 seats.
During this time, the remaining leadership of the AAP is attempting to put the pieces back together. In a statement, Bharadwaj, the minister of health in Delhi, stated that although they are able to arrest Kejriwal, they are unable to arrest his ideas. “He is an idea that is germinating in every lane and neighborhood,” the speaker told the audience.

On the other hand, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) extolled the arrest, referring to Kejriwal as the “kingpin of the liquor scam.”

India Elections: Opposition Arvind Kejriwal Arrested Weeks Before Polls -  Bloomberg

Sambit Patra, the national spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), made a remark about Kejriwal late on Thursday evening. Arvind Kejriwal is not a person, according to the AAP; rather, he is an idea. I ought to say that he is not a good idea.

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