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  India   Politics  11 May 2024  Kejriwal gets bail after 50 days

Kejriwal gets bail after 50 days

THE ASIAN AGE. | RAKESH SINGH AND SANJAY KAW
Published : May 11, 2024, 1:40 am IST
Updated : May 11, 2024, 1:40 am IST

He has to surrender on June 2: Supreme Court

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. (PTI File Image)
 Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. (PTI File Image)

NEW DELHI: Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal walked out of Tihar jail hours after the Supreme Court granted him interim bail in a money laundering case. The top court granted him reprieve till June 1 to campaign for the remaining four of the seven phases of the Lok Sabha elections but barred him from visiting his office or Delhi Secretariat and signing official files unless absolutely necessary for obtaining the lieutenant-governor's approval.

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta, however, made it clear to Mr Kejriwal to surrender a day after the last phase of the seven-phase poll gets over. The fourth phase of polling will be held on May 13 and polling for the last phase will be held on June 1.

The top court also rejected the submission of the Enforcement Directorate that granting relief for poll campaigning will create a separate class of politicians. “We would reject the argument that the reasoning recorded by us in the paragraphs… results in the grant of privilege or special status to politicians.”

After remaining in custody for 51 days, Mr Kejriwal stepped out of Tihar prison after furnishing bail bonds of ` 50,000 with a surety of the like amount. Outside Tihar jail, the Delhi CM was received by his wife Sunita, Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann and a large number of AAP’s senior leaders and workers.

Waving to a crowd of supporters who had gathered outside Tihar jail, Mr Kejriwal said, “Didn’t I tell you I’d be back soon? I am back.” He added, “I’m fighting against dictatorship with all I have. Now 140 crores of us have to do that.”

The AAP chief also thanked the Supreme Court judges who delivered the verdict. “Tomorrow at 11 am, we will all go to the Hanuman Mandir in Connaught Place. Then there will be a press conference at the party office at 1 pm. I request all of you to come to the Hanuman Mandir.”

At about 7.10 pm, Mr Kejriwal, accompanied by his wife, his daughter Harshita and AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sandeep Pathak, left Tihar jail in his convoy. Earlier in the day, Ms Kejriwal, who was filling in for her husband during his absence, said, “Hanuman ji ki jai. This is the victory of democracy. It is the result of the prayers and blessings of millions of people. Many thanks to everyone.”

As Mr Kejriwal was granted relief by the apex court, top AAP leaders held a press conference and hailed the verdict as a "victory for democracy". Delhi minister Atishi said, “We have started a movement to end dictatorship and this movement will be strengthened with Mr Kejriwal walking out of jail.” She added that it is up to the citizens now to defeat “dictatorship by the power of the vote”.

Party workers celebrated and raised victory slogans at the party headquarters in Delhi. Some jubilant workers were seen dancing and raising slogans such as “Jail ke taale toot gaye, Kejriwal ji chhoot gaye.” The AAP even cancelled all events scheduled for the day, including election meetings and campaigns.

Mr Kejriwal’s release is being viewed as a massive boost to both the AAP and the INDIA bloc's campaign as the Lok Sabha polls enter the crucial phases in the coming weeks. Senior AAP leader Saurabh Bharadwaj said that the AAP supremo’s coming out of jail will be a “game changer” in favour of the INDIA bloc.

Hinting at a rise in the stature of Mr Kejriwal as a top INDIA grouping leader, Mr Bharadwaj said he will go all over the country to campaign for the Lok Sabha polls. The AAP leaders said the party will decide on the campaign schedule of Mr Kejriwal, keeping in mind the demands of INDIA bloc partners for his canvassing in other states.

Mr Kejriwal's legal team had made a strong pitch for his release to allow him to campaign for the AAP in the days before the election for Delhi's seven Lok Sabha seats -- all held by the BJP -- on May 25. Of the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi, the AAP is contesting on four seats, while its INDIA alliance partner Congress has fielded candidates on three seats. Now, his release from jail, however transient, is bound to give a major fillip to the AAP's campaign in the national capital.

The Delhi CM is also going to campaign aggressively in Punjab, where the AAP is in power and has fielded its candidates in all 13 Lok Sabha seats. He will also be campaigning in Haryana, where the party has fielded its candidate from the Kurushetra constituency.

A wave of jubilation also swept across the INDIA bloc parties, with the Opposition leaders welcoming the court verdict and saying the "fight to save democracy" will now be more intense.

Congress leader Pawan Khera hoped former Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren also got justice. “We welcome the intervention by the Supreme Court in granting bail to Mr Kejriwal... We also hope that the Prime Minister gets enough time after June 4, when he becomes the former Prime Minister, to introspect, sitting in the Sabarmati Ashram, on the kind of politics he has indulged in,” he said.

West Bengal chief minister and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said, “I am very happy to see that Mr Kejriwal has got interim bail. It will be very helpful in the context of the current elections.”

In the top court, as soon as the bench took up the matter, solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, said, “Now we have been approached by Amritpal Singh. That’s a concern.”

Mr Singh, chief of the Waris Punjab De outfit, is currently lodged at Dibrugarh jail in Assam under the National Security Act. Justice Khanna replied, “That’s something entirely different. You can’t compare.”

Mr Metha said he “could not find any precedent to assist your lordships either way, that a person is released for campaigning…”

However, Justice Khanna said, “Let’s not put into a simple straightjacket like that.” He added that the case was registered in August 2022 and Mr Kejriwal was arrested in March 2024 after about one-and-a-half years. “Twenty-one days…should not make any difference,” he said.

The bench rejected the vehement argument of the ED counsel that enlarging Mr Kejriwal on interim bail to campaign in the elections will be without precedent. The top court did not concur with his contention that interim bail to the AAP national convener for campaigning will be like giving the “premium of placing the politicians in a benefic position compared to ordinary citizens of this country.”

“While examining the question of the grant of interim bail or release, the courts always take into consideration the peculiarities associated with the person in question and the surrounding circumstances. In fact, to ignore the same will be iniquitous and wrong,” the bench said, adding that the parliamentary elections are the “most significant and an important event this year.”

The bench said, "No doubt, serious accusations have been made, but Mr Kejriwal has not been convicted yet, does not have any criminal antecedents and is “not a threat to the society.”

It noted that, more importantly, the legality and validity of his arrest itself were under challenge before the top court, which has yet to finally pronounce its verdict on it.

The apex court said: “The factual situation cannot be compared with the harvesting of crops or the plea to look after business affairs. In this background, once the matter is subjudice and the questions relating to the legality of arrest are under consideration, a more holistic and libertarian view is justified, in the background that the 18th Lok Sabha general elections are being held.”

Ruling that Mr Kejriwal's case is “not an exception”, the bench said the power to grant interim bail is commonly exercised in a number of cases and interim bail is granted keeping in mind the facts of each case.

The top court directed Mr Kejriwal not to make any comment with regard to his role in the case and to not interact with any of the witnesses or have access to any official files connected with the case.

The apex court said the ongoing Lok Sabha elections have prompted the consideration of interim bail for Mr Kejriwal, as at this stage, it is not possible for the court to either conclude the arguments or finally pronounce the verdict on his plea challenging his arrest.

The top court said: “As the appeal is pending before us, we do not think it will be proper for us to direct the appellant, Mr Kejriwal, to approach the trial court for interim bail or release. This may not be apt in view of the legal issues and contentions that are under examination and consideration before us.”

The bench said the ED has rightly pointed out that Mr Kejriwal had failed to appear in spite of nine notices or summonses, the first of which was issued in October 2023.

“This is a negative factor, but there are several other facets that we are required to take into consideration,” the top court said, adding that Mr Kejriwal is the chief minister and leader of one of the national parties.

The bench noted the investigation in the case has remained pending since August 2022 and Mr Kejriwal was arrested on March 21 this year. It, however, said the grant of interim bail will not be treated as an expression of opinion on the merits of the case or the criminal appeal that is pending its consideration.

Tags: arvind kejriwal, supreme court of india, aam aadmi party
Location: India, Delhi