India party calls for opposition unity after leader’s arrest ahead of vote

By Thomson Reuters Mar 27, 2024 | 10:24 AM

By Shivam Patel

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s opposition alliance needs to stick together to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an upcoming national election following the arrest of one of its leaders on bribery allegations, one of its parties said on Wednesday.

A powerful government agency last week arrested Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the founder of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and a staunch Modi critic.

Kejriwal, who denies the charges of corruption, is one of the highest profile leaders of the 27-member opposition “INDIA” alliance that has struggled to work together and bickered over seat-sharing ahead of the election beginning April 19.

A key test of their unity would be on Sunday, at a protest rally in Delhi to which AAP has invited all opposition parties.

“In this current election, it’s imperative for all opposition parties to come together,” said Delhi Finance Minister Atishi, one of the only few senior AAP leaders not yet in jail.

“At this stage, this election is not about Aam Aadmi Party or the Congress or the Trinamool Congress or the Samajwadi Party,” she said in an interview, referring to other main opposition parties. “This election is about saving the constitution of the country.”

Modi is widely expected to win a third straight term, according to opinion polls.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which arrested Kejriwal, can conduct searches and make arrests without a warrant. It has summoned, questioned or raided nearly 150 politicians from the opposition since Modi took power in 2014. In that time it has targeted four politicians from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Opposition parties accuse the BJP-run federal government of using the ED and other agencies to target their leaders for political gain.

The BJP has said that investigators were just following the law and Modi said earlier this month that “all agencies are completely independent to act against corruption”. The ED has said it operates without discriminating between political parties.

(Reporting by Shivam Patel in New Delhi; Editing by Alex Richardson)