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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Explainer: What charges is Kejriwal facing and can he continue to govern Delhi?

  • India's financial crime agency arrested Kejriwal on Thursday
  • Main leaders of AAP are in jail
  • AAP stands firm on Kejriwal leadership
Update : 22 Mar 2024, 02:45 PM

India's financial crime agency arrested Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, on Thursday in connection with graft allegations relating to the city's liquor policy, his party said, a setback for the opposition ahead of elections.

The arrest means the main leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are in jail, following the arrests last year of two of Kejriwal's deputies in the same case – which the party has called "dirty politics.”

The agency, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), is investigating allegations that a liquor policy implemented by the Delhi government in 2022, which ended its control over sales of liquor in the capital, gave undue advantages to private retailers.

The policy was subsequently withdrawn. The AAP has said no evidence of wrongdoing has emerged in the investigation and Kejriwal has previously said that if he is corrupt "then there is no one in this world who is honest.”

The ED had issued nine summons to him so far for questioning. Kejriwal did not answer them, saying that he feared he would be arrested if he appeared for questioning. He also sought protection from arrest from court, saying his party would be weakened in elections if that were to happen.

The AAP is part of the 27-party 'INDIA' bloc, an opposition alliance that hopes to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in national elections beginning April 19.

The bloc has dismissed graft investigations against multiple opposition leaders as a politically motivated smear campaign by the BJP, which runs the federal government that controls the Enforcement Directorate. The BJP denies political interference.

What does the liquor policy case entail?

The ED has labelled Arvind Kejriwal as a "conspirator" in the case.

According to the ED, K Kavitha, a leader of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), allegedly colluded with Kejriwal and key members of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), namely Manish Sisodia and Sanjay Singh, to devise a now-defunct liquor policy.

The purported conspiracy aimed to craft a policy favourable to a liquor lobby based in southern India, dubbed the "South Lobby" by the ED.

Allegedly, in exchange for this policy, the lobby pledged Rs100 crore to the AAP.

Kejriwal's involvement surfaced through statements made by some of the accused and witnesses, as noted in the ED's remand note and chargesheets.

One of the accused, Vijay Nair, was known to frequent Kejriwal's office extensively, spending a significant amount of time there, according to the agency. 

Nair allegedly told liquor traders about discussing the policy with Kejriwal. Furthermore, Nair facilitated a meeting between Kejriwal and Sameer Mahendru, the owner of Indospirit, and when this meeting was unsuccessful, he arranged a video call between them. During this call, Kejriwal referred to Nair as his "child" whom he trusted.

Raghav Magunta, the first accused in the "South Lobby" and now a witness, claims that his father Magunta Sreenivasulu Reddy, an MP with the YSR Congress Party, met Kejriwal to know more about the liquor policy.

The ED, citing a December 7, 2022 statement recorded by former deputy chief minister Sisodia’s then-secretary C Arvind, claimed he was informed of a decision to carve a 12% profit margin for wholesale private entities in the excise policy at Kejriwal’s residence in March 2021.

What has Kejriwal said?

Kejriwal has maintained that the summonses are politically motivated, orchestrated by the BJP.

During a hearing at the Delhi High Court on Thursday, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Kejriwal, argued that the ED's summonses were an attempt to tilt the playing field unfairly. Singhvi contended that the summonses issued to the AAP convenor lacked clarity, being vague and arbitrary, as they failed to specify the capacity in which Kejriwal was being summoned – whether as an individual, the chief minister or the national convenor of the AAP.

Singhvi emphasized that the summonses did not provide adequate details about the reasons for summoning Kejriwal, failing to clarify whether he was considered a witness or a suspect. 

He pointed out that the ED sent another summons on March 16, raising Kejriwal's apprehension of being arrested without just cause. He argued that such an arrest would violate Kejriwal's fundamental rights to life and liberty.

The lawyer also highlighted the timing of the March 16 summons, issued on the same day as the announcement of the general election schedule. He questioned the urgency of these summons, considering that the ED had been calling Kejriwal since the previous year, wondering why they could not wait for two more months.

Will Kejriwal continue to govern Delhi?

The AAP has affirmed that Kejriwal will retain his position as the chief minister of Delhi despite his arrest. 

While there is no legal barrier preventing him from governing while in custody, the guidelines within the jail system could pose significant challenges.

According to a former law officer at Delhi's Tihar Jail, inmates typically get permission for only two meetings per week, which would restrict Kejriwal's ability to fulfil his duties as chief minister. Sunil Gupta explained that these limitations could impede Kejriwal's governance due to the restricted interaction permitted with family, friends or associates.

However, Gupta suggested a potential solution: if Kejriwal can persuade the lieutenant governor, any building could be designated as a prison, enabling him to be placed under house arrest. This arrangement would facilitate his participation in the day-to-day operations of the Delhi government.

Following Kejriwal's arrest, the AAP's Atishi, who uses only one name and currently No 2 in the Delhi government, affirmed that there would be no alterations in the party's leadership. She unequivocally stated that Kejriwal would remain chief minister.

However, sources familiar with the matter said the Union Home Ministry was examining the consequences of Kejriwal's potential refusal to resign.

Legal experts said the Centre might have to suspend or remove him from his post since he was a public servant. This is also the procedure followed for arrested government officials: they are immediately suspended from service.

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