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JABALPUR: People wave India's national flag as they take part in 'Ahimsa Run' (nonviolence run) during a campaign to create awareness for citizens to vote, ahead of the country's upcoming national elections in Jabalpur on March 31, 2024. – AFP
JABALPUR: People wave India's national flag as they take part in 'Ahimsa Run' (nonviolence run) during a campaign to create awareness for citizens to vote, ahead of the country's upcoming national elections in Jabalpur on March 31, 2024. – AFP
Senior Indian opposition leader moved to jail ahead of election
India opposition holds massive rally in Delhi, decries ‘autocracy’

NEW DELHI: Senior opposition Indian politician Arvind Kejriwal was moved to a high-security prison Monday after his arrest last month, a case supporters say is politically motivated and that comes ahead of elections. Kejriwal, 55, chief minister of the capital Delhi, had been held since his arrest on March 21 by the Enforcement Directorate, India’s main financial crimes agency.

On Monday he was transferred to prison for 14 days as investigations continue, his party said. “Arvind Kejriwal has been sent to judicial custody for 14 days,” Sanjeev Nasiar, legal chief of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), or Common Man Party, told reporters.

Kejriwal’s government is accused of receiving kickbacks while handing out liquor licenses to private companies. His supporters say Kejriwal’s arrest was aimed at sidelining challengers to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Kejriwal, who denies the allegations, is a key leader in an opposition alliance formed to challenge Modi in the marathon six-week national elections beginning April 19.

AAP’s Nasiar said this party can now apply for bail for Kejriwal, but it was not immediately clear what will happen once the initial 14 days in prison comes to an end—just days before voting begins.

Meanwhile, top leaders of India’s opposition coalition and thousands of supporters rallied in the capital Sunday, decrying “autocracy” in protest at the arrest of a senior colleague ahead of general elections.

“The country is headed towards autocracy,” Shiv Sena party leader Uddhav Thackeray, a former chief minister of Maharashtra state, told cheering crowds on Sunday. “This one-man government is taking the country to ruin.” Nearly a billion Indians will vote to elect a new government in six-week-long parliamentary elections starting on April 19, the largest democratic exercise in the world. Many analysts see Modi’s re-election under his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) banner as a foregone conclusion, partly due to the resonance of his assertive Hindu-nationalist politics with members of India’s majority faith.

Several leaders of the two dozen political parties of the INDIA opposition alliance—the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance—addressed the crowd. “This is a fight to save India,” Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi said. “If the BJP comes back to power, they will discard the constitution.” Kejriwal’s wife Sunita read out what she said was a message from the arrested leader. “I want us together to build a new India where there is justice for everyone,” she read.

India’s main financial investigation agency, the Enforcement Directorate, which arrested Kejriwal, has launched probes into at least four other state chief ministers or their family members. While Modi enjoys high levels of support, critics accuse him of using law enforcement agencies to intimidate opposition leaders.

All the investigations involve political opponents of Modi’s ruling BJP. Many in the flag-waving crowd were supporters of Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), or Common Man Party, who donned yellow tops with the image of their leader in jail.

“We are here to express our support for Kejriwal, who has been arrested under a conspiracy,” said Sandeep Singh, 45, who drove overnight from Punjab, the Sikh-majority state north of Delhi that AAP controls. Congress supporter S K Vidhyarthi, 70, a retired teacher from Delhi, said “democracy in India is under threat”. “What has happened to Kejriwal today can happen to us tomorrow,” he said. — AFP

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