Arvind Kejriwal gets bail till June 1, set to campaign for LS polls

Arvind Kejariwal

We have to save the country from dictatorship, I will fight with all my might but need the support of 1.4 billion people, says Arvind Kejriwal Delhi Chief Minister, after stepping out of Tihar Jail

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal walked out of Tihar Jail on Friday evening, hours after the Supreme Court granted him interim bail until June 1 in the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED’s) case in the alleged Delhi excise policy scam. The Court order will allow him to campaign for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which he heads, and the Opposition INDIA bloc, but the apex court has asked him not to visit the Delhi CM’s office or sign any official files.

After his release from jail, where he was received with zestful sloganeering and celebrations by wife Sunita, AAP workers, and Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann, among others, Kejriwal said he was fighting against dictatorship “with all I have”. He urged 1.4 billion Indians to come together and join him in the fight. He thanked the Supreme Court for his release and said he would visit the Hanuman Temple in the capital’s Connaught Place on Saturday morning, and later address a press conference.

Kejriwal’s release came about after 50 days in jail, and with polling over in half the Lok Sabha seats, including four of the 22 where the AAP is contesting — two each in Assam and Gujarat. Of the remaining 18, the AAP is contesting in four of Delhi’s seven, and one of Haryana’s 10, under its seat-sharing arrangement with the Congress. The two states are scheduled to go to the polls on May 25. Party strategists, who fear their leader could get incarcerated for a longer period after June, said the next fortnight of campaigning would be crucial for the party’s survival until the Assembly polls in these two states. Assembly elections in Haryana and Delhi are slated, respectively, for October and February next year.

AAP leader and Delhi minister Saurabh Bharadwaj said Kejriwal’s release would be a game changer in the Lok Sabha polls. Top Opposition leaders, such as West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and the Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP’s) Sharad Pawar welcomed Kejriwal’s bail. His release “will be very helpful in the context of the current elections”, Banerjee said. Others hoped former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren would also be released soon. However, party strategists pointed out that another failure in Delhi, where the AAP failed to win any LS seats in Delhi either in 2014 or 2019, could dent workers’ morale and the party’s credibility, if Kejriwal’s incarceration were to continue. Apart from Delhi and Haryana, the AAP is contesting in all 13 seats in Punjab. Polling in the state, where it is the ruling party, is scheduled for June 1.

For the next few days, Kejriwal is slated to address press conferences, speak to the media and YouTube channels, and campaign widely — not just for his party’s candidates, but also for INDIA bloc allies, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, at the insistence of Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray.

In its order, the apex court also said Kejriwal “shall not visit the office of the chief minister and the Delhi Secretariat” and/or “sign official files, unless it is required and necessary for obtaining clearance/approval of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi”. Besides, “he will not make any comment with regard to his role in the present case” and/or “interact with any of the witnesses and/or have access to any official files connected with the case”. Kejriwal shall surrender on June 2, the Court said.

A Bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta rejected the prosecution’s argument that granting interim bail to the Delhi CM would amount to granting a privilege or special status to politicians. The Bench emphasised that while examining the question of grant of interim bail/release, courts always take into consideration the peculiarities associated with the person in question and the surrounding circumstances. “In fact, to ignore the same would be iniquitous and wrong,” it said.

The Court went on to say that “a more holistic and libertarian view is justified, in the background that the 18th Lok Sabha general elections are being held”.

“The appellant, Arvind Kejriwal, is the chief minister of Delhi and a leader of one of the national parties. No doubt, serious accusations have been made, but he has not been convicted. He does not have any criminal antecedents. He is not a threat to society,” the order said. The Court noted that the investigation in the present case had remained pending since August 2022 and Kejriwal was arrested on March 21.

Kejriwal had been arrested on March 21 from his residence by the ED, after being refused an interim relief earlier in the day by the Delhi High Court. He had been in custody ever since. The Supreme Court had indicated during a hearing on May 3 that it would consider interim bail to Kejriwal in the context of the Lok Sabha polls. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General S V Raju, appearing for the ED, had opposed this and argued that the ED had “evidence” against Kejriwal and election campaigning ought not to be a criterion for considering the grant of interim bail.

First Published: May 10 2024 | 7:34 PM IST

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