India’s top court grants bail to opposition leader Arvind Kejriwal

Supreme Court allows Delhi chief minister to leave custody until June 1, allowing him to campaign for elections.

India’s Supreme Court has ordered the temporary release on bail of jailed Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, a key opposition leader, which will allow him to campaign in the ongoing general elections.

In a decision issued on Friday, Supreme Court Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta said Kejriwal could leave custody until June 1, the last day of voting in the seven-phase polls that started on April 19.

The court ordered Kejriwal, who was arrested in a corruption case in March, to surrender on June 2.

“No doubt, serious accusations have been made, but he has not been convicted,” their ruling said. “He does not have any criminal antecedents. He is not a threat to the society.”

The results of the world’s largest election are to be announced on June 4, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a third straight term after running a divisive campaign pitting his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against an alliance of 26 opposition parties, led by the Indian National Congress.

Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is part of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), has called the case against him fabricated and politically motivated.

AAP is a challenger to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Delhi and the northern state of Punjab, where voting will take place on May 25 and June 1, respectively.

The allegations against Kejriwal stem from his government’s decision to implement a policy liberalising the sale of liquor in 2021 and giving up a lucrative government stake in the sector.

The policy was withdrawn the following year, but the resulting investigation into the alleged corrupt allocation of licences also saw the jailing of his allies.

The Directorate of Enforcement, the federal financial crimes investigating agency, accused Kejriwal’s party and ministers of accepting 1 billion rupees ($12m) in kickbacks from liquor contractors.

Rallies in support of Kejriwal were held in numerous cities across the country after his arrest.

Kejriwal has been chief minister for nearly a decade and first came to office as a staunch anticorruption crusader. He has remained Delhi’s top elected official and has denied the accusations.

The directorate on Friday opposed his bail, saying releasing Kejriwal to campaign would indicate that there were different judicial standards for politicians and other citizens.

“The right to campaign for an election is neither a fundamental right nor a constitutional right and not even a legal right,” it said, adding that Kejriwal is not a candidate in these elections.

Government critics have accused Modi of weaponising the country’s investigating agencies to harass his political rivals. Modi has claimed the agencies are doing their job and are free from government influence.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies