Enforcement Directorate arrests Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in alleged liquor policy scam

Kejriwal’s arrest marks the latest development in what opposition parties decry as a pattern of Central agencies targeting dissenting voices.

Published : Mar 22, 2024 00:28 IST - 6 MINS READ

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal being taken away from his residence after he was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in an excise policy-linked money laundering case in New Delhi on March 21.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal being taken away from his residence after he was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in an excise policy-linked money laundering case in New Delhi on March 21. | Photo Credit: ANI

Following months of suspense, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on March 21 arrested Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener Arvind Kejriwal in the money laundering case related to the alleged liquor policy scam. Kejriwal was arrested from his residence amid tight security, hours after the Delhi High Court denied him interim protection from the Central agency’s coercive action and listed the matter for hearing on April 22.

The AAP then moved the Supreme Court against the ED’s action for urgent hearing. The apex court is likely to take up the matter on March 22.

Kejriwal, who has also been issued summons by the ED over alleged irregularities in awarding Delhi Jal Board contracts, is the second Chief Minister after Jharkhand’s Hemant Soren to be arrested by the Central agency without trial. While Soren, also the chairperson of Jharkhand’s ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, was arrested on January 31 in a money laundering case shortly after he resigned as Chief Minister, Kejriwal and his party have declared that he will run the government from the jail.

Also Read | Decoding AAP’s game plan

Earlier on March 15, the ED had arrested Bharat Rashtra Samithi leader and Telangana MLC K. Kavitha in connection with the same case. Kejriwal’s arrest coincides with the revelations regarding the Narendra Modi government’s electoral bond scheme. On February 15, the Supreme Court declared the opaque mode of political funding, which benefited the BJP the most, to be unconstitutional.

Crackdown on opposition leaders

The arrests are being seen as a part of the larger crackdown on opposition leaders by Central agencies. According to the opposition parties, 95 per cent of the cases filed by the Central probe agencies since 2014—when the BJP came to the power at the Centre—are against their leaders.

Before his arrest, Kejriwal had skipped nine summons by the ED, describing them as “illegal” and “politically motivated”. At present, senior AAP leaders such as Delhi’s former Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh are in judicial custody. Former Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain and former AAP communications in-charge Vijay Nair, who is said to be the main fundraiser for the party, are currently out on medical bail.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) workers taking out a march protesting against the arrest of party chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in New Delhi on March 21.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) workers taking out a march protesting against the arrest of party chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in New Delhi on March 21. | Photo Credit: R.K. Nithin

On March 19, Sanjay Singh, who was re-elected to the Rajya Sabha, took oath after a Delhi court permitted him to visit Parliament. He has been in Tihar Jail since October 2023 in connection with the now-scrapped Delhi excise policy case.

The AAP government’s liquor policy of 2021-22, which led to the privatisation of the liquor trade through public auctioning, is at the core of the controversy. According to the summary of the cases filed by the CBI and the ED, the alleged scam caused a loss of Rs.2,873 crore to the Delhi government. A private company allegedly paid Rs.30 lakh in bribes to members of the AAP government to obtain a wholesale liquor licence. The company reportedly raised Rs.1,333 crore in sales in 13 months, allegedly made a profit of Rs.192.8 crore in just 8 months, and is said to have given Rs.100 crore to AAP leaders as kickbacks. According to the CBI, the scam involves a group of businessmen who conspired in Hyderabad in June 2021 to make a fast buck through the Delhi government’s liquor policy.

Also Read | AAP faces existential crisis as liquor scam clouds its anti-corruption image

The ED had filed two criminal complaints against Kejriwal in a local Delhi court alleging non-compliance with nine summons. Last week, Kejriwal appeared before the court and was granted bail after he furnished a bail bond.

Kejriwal’s arrest comes at a time when the Modi government is being increasingly attacked by the opposition for weaponising Central agencies against them in the wake of the 2024 Lok Sabha election. Earlier on March 21, senior Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and party president Mallikarjun Kharge had raised questions about the credibility of the election process. During a press conference in New Delhi, they slammed the BJP-led government for freezing of the Congress’ accounts, calling it a “criminal action” by the Prime Minister and the Home Minister.

Opposition reacts to Kejriwal’s arrest

Reacting sharply to Kejriwal’s arrest, opposition leaders accused the Modi government of demolishing democracy. “A scared dictator wants to create a dead democracy. While capturing all the institutions including the media, breaking up the parties, extorting money from companies, and freezing the account of the main opposition party was not enough for the ‘devilish power’, now the arrest of the elected Chief Ministers has also become a common thing. INDIA will give a befitting reply to this,” Congress MP Rahul Gandhi wrote in a post on X.

Similarly, Nationalist Congress Party (Sharadchandra Pawar) chief Sharad Pawar described the arrest as “unconstitutional”. In a post on X, he wrote: “This arrest showcases the depth to which BJP will stoop for power.”

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said on X: “It’s the second sitting CM of the INDIA bloc to be arrested. Clearly, Modi and the BJP are in panic over people’s rejection in the ongoing elections. All opposition leaders who defected and joined the BJP are protected and patronised. They are the ‘Satya Harishchandras’! These arrests will only cement people’s desire to defeat BJP, defend democracy and Indian Constitution.”

AAP general secretary Sandeep Pathak wrote on social media: “The Bharatiya Janata Party and (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi will pay heavily for this move.”

Trinamool Congress MP Saket Gokhale highlighted that since the Model Code of Conduct is in force, the “Election Commission (EC) has superintendence over all government machinery”. On the question of the ED informing the EC about their plans to arrest Arvind Kejriwal, he wrote on X: “Did EC examine the grounds for arresting a sitting CM weeks before Lok Sabha elections? EVERY institution has contributed to the destruction of democracy - a shameful chapter of which we witnessed tonight in Delhi.”

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