AAP kejriwal protest
Supporters of Aam Admi Party, or Common Man's Party, shout slogans during a protest against the arrest of their party leader Arvind Kejriwal, in New Delhi, India, Friday, March 22, 2024. Image Credit: AP

New Delhi: Top Indian opposition politician Arvind Kejriwal appeared in court Friday to fight his arrest in a case supporters say is aimed at sidelining politicians before next month’s election.

Kejriwal, chief minister of the capital Delhi and a key leader in an opposition alliance formed to compete against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the polls, was detained on Thursday in connection with a long-running corruption probe.

He is among several leaders of the bloc under criminal investigation and one of his colleagues described his arrest as a “political conspiracy”.

Kejriwal was escorted into a courtroom in the capital by officers from the Enforcement Directorate, India’s main financial crimes agency, to petition for bail while the case proceeds.

His legal team had originally sought to challenge the legality of his detention in the Supreme Court but Shadan Farasat, a lawyer for Kejriwal, told AFP they would instead contest his remand in a lower court.

Delhi Cabinet Minister Atishi
Police personnel detain Delhi Cabinet Minister Atishi along with AAP supporters protesting against the arrest of Delhi CM and AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal by Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the alleged Delhi excise policy-linked money laundering case, at ITO in New Delhi on Friday, March 22, 2024. Image Credit: ANI

Hundreds of supporters from Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) took to the streets on Friday to condemn the leader’s arrest, with police breaking up one crowd of protesters who attempted to block a busy traffic intersection.

Several demonstrators were detained including Delhi education minister Atishi Singh and health minister Saurabh Bhardwaj, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.

Small rallies in support of Kejriwal were held in several other cities around India.

Kejriwal’s government was accused of corruption when it implemented a policy to liberalise the sale of liquor in 2021 and give up a lucrative government stake in the sector.

The policy was withdrawn the following year, but the resulting probe into the alleged corrupt allocation of licences has since seen the jailing of two top Kejriwal allies.

Kejriwal, 55, has been chief minister for nearly a decade and first came to office as a staunch anti-corruption crusader. He had resisted multiple summons from the Enforcement Directorate to be interrogated as part of the probe.

Atishi Singh, the education minister, said Thursday that Kejriwal had not resigned from his office.

“We made it clear from the beginning that if needed, Arvind Kejriwal will run the government from jail,” she told reporters.

Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin, a fellow member of the opposition bloc, said Kejriwal’s arrest “smacks of a desperate witch-hunt”.