Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal
Arvind Kejriwal's party controls the capital Delhi and Punjab state Image Credit: ANI

New Delhi: 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 decade-old 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".

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Kejriwal, 55, rose to power as an anti-corruption crusader and founded the AAP, Hindi for "common man's party", in 2011. Kejriwals' arrest, just weeks before the Lok Sabha elections, has unleashed waves of protest by AAP workers.

AAP leader Gopal Rai announced nationwide protests to be held on Friday against the Bharatiya Janata Party over the arrest of Kejriwal on allegations of corruption linked to the city's liquor policy. The Congress is likely to join the protests.

Meanwhile, barricades and heavy security were deployed at ITO after Delhi CM was arrested by the ED in the Excice Policy Case last night and was brought to the ED Headquarters.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation said that on the advice of Delhi Police, ITO Metro station will remain closed from 08:00 am to 06:00 pm today

Kejriwal moves Supreme Court against arrest

Earlier, Delhi minister and AAP leader Atishi said on social media that the AAP was seeking to quash the latest arrest. "We have asked for an urgent hearing by the Supreme Court tonight itself," she said.

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 sale 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The policy was subsequently withdrawn.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".

Local media reported that he will be presented before a court on Friday where the charges against him will be made public. There was no immediate comment from the directorate.

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.

Opposition parties expressed concern on social media, including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who said: "The arrest of elected Chief Ministers has become a common thing." 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.

The agency arrested Kejriwal's deputy Manish Sisodia and AAP lawmaker Sanjay Singh in the same case last year. After coming to power in Delhi in 2013, AAP swept state elections in the northern state of Punjab in 2022 and won a few seats in Modi's home state Gujarat in the same year.

'Our ability to fight' 

Kejriwal is among several prominent opposition leaders subject to criminal investigations that supporters say are aimed at hobbling opponents of the BJP.

Rahul Gandhi, the most prominent member of the opposition Congress party and scion of a dynasty that dominated Indian politics for decades, was convicted of criminal libel last year after a complaint by a member of Modi's party.

His two-year prison sentence saw him disqualified from parliament for a time until the verdict was suspended by a higher court, but raised concerns over democratic norms in the world's most populous country.

Congress leaders called a press conference on Thursday to announce that an ongoing investigation into its tax filings had left its bank accounts frozen and the party bereft of funds.

"We have no money to campaign, we cannot support our candidates," Gandhi told reporters. "Our ability to fight elections has been damaged."

Gandhi also took to social media to blast the arrest of Kejriwal, taking a veiled swipe at the country's leadership.

"A scared dictator wants to create a dead democracy," he posted on X.

Rahul Gandhi to meet Kejriwal's family

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi has reached out to Arvin Kejriwal's family and assured them of his and the grand old party's support following the Enforcement Directorate's arrest of the Delhi Chief Minister on Thursday, as per party sources.

Gandhi will try to meet either Kejriwal or his family on Friday to offer further legal assistance, added the source.

Kejriwal's party and Congress are members of a broad opposition alliance aimed at jointly contesting national elections running between April and June.

But even without the criminal investigations targeting its most prominent leaders, few expect the bloc to make inroads against Modi, who remains roundly popular a decade after first taking office.