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Indian elections: Supreme court releases jailed Modi critic on bail, allowing Arvind Kejriwal to campaign

India’s top court on Friday ordered Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s imprisoned opponent to be released on bail, allowing him to contest the ongoing national elections.

Arvind Kejriwal, the prime minister of the capital Delhi and a key leader of the opposition alliance formed to challenge Modi in the polls, was detained in March in connection with a long-running corruption probe. The Kejriwal government and his Aam Aadmi Party deny allegations of corruption.

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

Modi and his BJP claim that investigative agencies are only doing their job and the government has no influence on them.

Supreme Court justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta said Kejriwal could be released from custody by June 1, the last day of voting in the six-week elections.

The Kejriwal government was accused of corruption as it pursued a policy of liberalizing alcohol sales in 2021 and giving up the government’s lucrative stake in the industry.

Jailed Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was released on interim bail on Friday, which will enable him to campaign for the ongoing national elections. Photo: AFP

This policy was withdrawn the following year, but an investigation into alleged corrupt license allocation resulted in two of Kejriwal’s top allies being imprisoned.

Following his arrest, rallies in support of Kejriwal were held in many other major Indian cities.

Kejriwal, 55, has been chief minister for almost a decade and first came to office as a staunch anti-corruption crusader.

He repeatedly resisted summons from the Enforcement Division, India’s financial crimes agency, for questioning as part of the investigation.

The seven-phase vote was marred by allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was using investigative agencies to harm rivals, allegations the government denies.

The U.S. think tank Freedom House said this year that the BJP “increasingly used government institutions to attack 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 defamation last year following a complaint by a member of Modi’s party.

The two-year prison sentence resulted in him being temporarily banned from parliament until a higher court suspended his sentence, but raised further concerns about democratic norms in the world’s most populous country.

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Kejriwal and Gandhi are members of an opposition alliance of over two dozen parties that is jointly contesting the Indian elections.

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

Many analysts consider Modi’s re-election as a foregone conclusion, partly because of the resonance of his assertive Hindu-nationalist policies among the country’s majority religious base.

Kejriwal has been in custody since April 1 and in his absence, his wife Sunita has joined the campaign for his decade-old party.

In India, voting began on April 19, and elections for more than half of the total 543 seats were concluded on May 7 in the third phase. Voting in the country’s capital territory will take place on May 25.

Voting ends on June 1 and counting is scheduled for June 4.