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Timing of Kejriwal's Arrest Calls for Close Scrutiny

Questions Surface Over Timing of Kejriwal's Arrest by Enforcement Directorate, Prompting Scrutiny of Circumstances, Political Motivations and the Integrity of Investigative Processes.

By Neeraj Thakur
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Arvind Kejriwal

Arvind Kejriwal | Photo courtesy: AI generated

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Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s seventh and sitting Chief Minister and the National Convenor of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), was arrested on Thursday by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a PMLA case related to the liquor policy scam. The arrest came after Kejriwal skipped a total of nine summons from the ED, calling the summons against him "illegal." The Delhi High Court also refused to grant him interim protection from arrest. 

Kejriwal's arrest by the ED marks a deep irony in the trajectory of his political journey. Having risen to prominence as a crusader against corruption, Kejriwal's career path—from his days as a mechanical engineer at IIT Kharagpur to his stint in the Indian Revenue Service and subsequent establishment of the Public Cause Research Foundation—was defined by a pursuit of transparent governance. His role in the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement alongside Anna Hazare and Kiran Bedi catapulted him into the national spotlight in 2011. However, the trio split and the irony is that even his former ally Anna Hazare refused to support him after his arrest. Hazare even said that a man like Kejriwal, who used to fight against liquor, is now making liquor policies and is arrested because of his own deeds.

"Whether I stay in jail or outside, my life will be dedicated to serving the nation," said Kejriwal, striving to maintain his image as an anti-corruption crusader while appearing before the Rouse Avenue Court following his arrest. According to reports, the Aam Aadmi Party chief spent his first night after arrest in a modest lock-up, equipped with only two mattresses on the floor. 

Since Kejriwal’s arrest, a flurry of allegations and counter-allegations have dominated the political discourse. However, what stands out the most is that Kejriwal's arrest no longer appears to be solely about the liquor policy or a clash between AAP and the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. It's evolving into a situation where the entire opposition, previously fragmented, is now rallying behind Kejriwal, raising a united voice against the BJP and expressing solidarity with him, almost making him the poster boy uniting the opposition.

During the court hearing, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has levied a range of charges against Kejriwal. These include labelling him as the "kingpin" of the liquor scam and alleging that he demanded kickbacks, with the proceeds purportedly used in the 2022 Goa assembly elections. The ED further asserted that, beyond individual liability, Kejriwal is also vicariously responsible as the National Convenor of AAP, which functions as a beneficiary company. According to the ED, every individual responsible for the conduct of the company must be held accountable, placing Kejriwal squarely in the spotlight. While the veracity of the ED's allegations against Kejriwal remains to be determined by the court, it's important to consider the broader context and timeline of events surrounding this case.

Kejriwal's arrest marks an unprecedented moment in the history of independent India, as he becomes the first sitting Chief Minister to face such action. Now incarcerated, he joins a growing roster of his party's top leadership behind bars, including former Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, and former ministers Satyendar Jain and Sanjay Singh. Just a few days ago, Bharat Rashtra Samithi’s leader K. Kavitha was also apprehended by the ED in connection with the case.

On the same day as Kejriwal’s arrest, the Congress party also held a press conference and levelled financial sabotage accusations against the centre, claiming the BJP government had frozen the party's bank accounts ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. According to the party, they received notices from the IT department for two financial years: 2017-18 and a staggering leap back to 1993-94. Ajay Maken, the party's treasurer, voiced concerns over the second notice, received just the previous week, which pertained to years 1993-94 when Sita Ram Kesari served as treasurer. Maken highlighted the absurdity of the situation, questioning the imposition of penal charges after 31 years since the IT assessment period.

That apart, last month, the agency arrested Hemant Soren mere hours after he resigned as the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, on charges of corruption. Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, much like the AAP and the Congress, is also part of the opposition alliance which is gearing up to take on the BJP in the forthcoming elections. 

Even in the case of the electoral bond scheme, we saw how the State Bank of India came under heavy criticism for acting as a puppet of the government for its non-compliance with Supreme Court orders, as it repeatedly delayed revealing the complete details of donors who contributed funds to political parties. Only after the apex court rapped the SBI did the bank finally adhere to the directives

Furthermore, the resignation of Election Commissioner Arun Goel just weeks prior to the General Elections led to the union government filling the two vacant posts of election commissioners. Numerous Public Interest Litigations (PILs) were filed challenging the constitutional validity of the legislation introduced by Parliament, which stipulated that the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs) would be appointed by the President upon the recommendation of a Selection Committee and this committee would comprise the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition (or the largest Opposition party) in the Lok Sabha, and a Union Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister. In March 2023, a Constitution Bench judgement mandated that appointments be made by the President based on the advice of a panel consisting of the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition, and the Chief Justice of India (CJI). But the centre later tabled a Bill to exclude the CJI from the election commission appointment panel. To condemn this, the opposition has gone to the extent of accusing the BJP government of trying to manipulate the game by changing the referee even before the match began.

Kejriwal's arrest transcends the mere detention of a politician who also happens to be the Chief Minister of the national capital. While wrongdoing warrants consequences, the series of events in recent times begs the question: can we place full confidence in the assertions made by the ED? The central agencies in India must answer many questions. Why have we witnessed a surge in the targeting of opposition leaders alone? Does this imply an absence of corruption within the ruling ranks? Moreover, media raids and arrests seem to predominantly target individuals critical of the government. Does this suggest that pro-government media outlets are devoid of financial irregularities? 

As India gears up for polls commencing on April 19th, citizens will exercise their democratic right to choose their government. These elections are touted as the largest in the world's largest democracy. What's critical at this stage is that all political parties should operate on a fair level playing field, and ultimately, the people should be the final arbiters. Democracy, as we understand it, hinges on the participation and choice of the people. However, if efforts are made to systematically cripple the opposition even before the elections, democracy's very essence is at stake.