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Top opponent of India PM Modi leaves prison on bail

Jailed Indian opposition politician to run capital from cell
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A top opponent of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi left jail on Friday warning that his country was facing “dictatorship” after a court ordered his release on bail to campaign in an ongoing national election.

Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of the capital Delhi and a key leader in an opposition alliance formed to compete against Modi in the polls, was detained in March over a long-running corruption probe.

He is among several leaders of the bloc under criminal investigation, with one of his colleagues describing his arrest the month before national polls began as a “political conspiracy” orchestrated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Kejriwal was greeted by more than 1,000 exuberant supporters as he walked out of Tihar Jail on Friday evening.

“We have to save this country from dictatorship,” he told the crowd. “I am fighting against it with all of my might.”

India’s Supreme Court said earlier he could leave custody until June 1, the last day of voting in the six-week election.

“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.”

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The policy was withdrawn the following year, but the resulting probe into the alleged corrupt allocation of licences has since led to the jailing of two top Kejriwal allies.

Rallies in support of Kejriwal, who has consistently denied wrongdoing and refused to relinquish his post after his arrest, were held in numerous other big cities around India after he was taken into custody.

“The Supreme Court has come to the rescue of our constitution and democracy, which are facing an onslaught from the BJP,” Atishi, a minister in Kejriwal’s government who goes by one name, told reporters after the ruling.

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, India’s financial crimes agency, to be interrogated as part of the probe.

His release was made conditional on his agreement not to make public comment on the case against him, not to interact with witnesses in the case and not to visit the offices of the Delhi government.

– ‘Target political opponents’ –

Modi’s political opponents and international rights groups have long sounded the alarm on India’s shrinking democratic space.

US think tank Freedom House said this year that the BJP had “increasingly used government institutions to target political opponents”.

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 until the verdict was suspended by a higher court, and raised concerns over democratic norms in the world’s most populous country.

Hemant Soren, the former chief minister of the eastern state of Jharkhand, was also arrested in February in a separate corruption probe.

He was denied bail Friday in a separate court ruling by the same judges who ordered Kejriwal’s release.

Kejriwal, Gandhi and Soren are all members of an opposition alliance composed of more than two dozen parties that is jointly contesting India’s election.

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

Many analysts see Modi’s re-election as a foregone conclusion, partly due to the resonance of his assertive Hindu-nationalist politics with members of the country’s majority faith.

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AFP

Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.







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