Arvind Kejriwal, Bhagwant Mann's Big Protest Prompts BJP's Counter Move

Delhi Liquor Policy Case Protests: Security in and around Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's residence, and the AAP and BJP HQs, were tightened overnight.

Arvind Kejriwal, Bhagwant Mann's Big Protest Prompts BJP's Counter Move

Chandigarh Mayoral Polls: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (File).

New Delhi:

The AAP vs BJP political row - over the Chandigarh mayoral election and the Enforcement Directorate's summons to Arvind Kejriwal - escalated Friday after the Delhi Chief Minister and his Punjab counterpart, Bhagwant Mann led a mass of party workers on a raucous protest march.

Speaking to the press before joining the protest Mr Kejriwal - who has skipped a fifth summons, leaving himself open to arrest - accused the BJP of rigging Tuesday's election. "If they can do this in small elections... what can they do in Lok Sabha and Assembly elections..." he declared.

"Democracy is not necessary for them (the BJP)... they can sell the country for power. But we will not allow the country to be messed with," he said, after Mr Mann called on people to "save democracy".

Visuals of the AAP's Delhi protest showed massive crowds, potentially in the hundreds, marching on the national capital's streets waving party flags and screaming slogans against the BJP. Other visuals showed dozens of people, possibly AAP workers, pushing past yellow Delhi Police barricades.

The AAP has alleged it is not being allowed to hold a peaceful protest, and senior leaders, including ministers Atishi and Saurabh Bharadwaj, have accused the BJP of being "scared" of Mr Kejriwal.

The party has also alleged that dozens of its workers have been detained or stopped from taking part in these protests; visuals this morning showed Delhi Police checking cars at border points.

There are reports that over two dozen AAP workers have been detained so far.

Meanwhile, the BJP has mounted protests of its own after accusing the AAP and Mr Kejriwal of playing the victim card in the matter of the Enforcement Directorate's summons. Visuals shared by news agency ANI showed a similarly large mob, also pushing past police barricades, waving BJP flags.

Delhi Police has stepped up security at key points in the city, including in and around the Chief Minister's residence, and the AAP and BJP HQs. Videos from earlier today showed traffic jams due to the protests, for which over a thousand police and paramilitary personnel have been deployed.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central) M Harsha Vardhan, said, "We are all set to ensure no law-and-order situation arises, and everything goes smoothly. We have taken all necessary measures..."

AAP, BJP Squabble On X

As Delhi Police preps for what could be a violent Friday, the two parties' leaders have already exchanged opening barbs on X (formerly Twitter).

Delhi Education Minister Atishi this morning claimed "fraud" had been committed openly in the Chandigarh election and taunted the BJP for being "so scared" of her party.

"Heavy barricades all across Delhi, buses full of volunteers being detained, hundreds of para-military forces outside AAP office - why is BJP so scared of a protest on Chandigarh mayor elections?"

Mr Kejriwal re-posted her tweet and claimed votes (in that poll) had been "stolen". "Now people coming to protest peacefully against this are being stopped at various places across Delhi," he said.

Saurabh Bharadwaj, the Health Minister, also accused the BJP of committing fraud.

"The nation knows how BJP committed fraud in Chandigarh. Ahead of this protest, our MLAs, councillors and party workers are being detained. Is BJP so scared of Arvind Kejriwal...?"

The BJP has been quick to respond, with national spokesperson Shehzad Poonawalla posting a lengthy video message attacking Mr Kejriwal for continuing to play the "victimhood" card.

"Arvind Kejriwal... if there is nothing to hide then why are you not presenting yourself before the ED and other agencies? You are the same Kejriwal who, under Anna Hazare's tutelage, said first there should be resignation, then investigation. But today you refuse to cooperate with investigation."

Mr Poonawalla also slammed the INDIA opposition bloc, of which Mr Kejriwal's AAP is a member, declaring "the only thing that binds them is commission and corruption, not mission or vision."

Delhi BJP leader Harish Khurana echoed that sentiment.

"Once again Kejriwal has skipped summons. This is the fifth time. Kejriwal is calling it unlawful so the question is why he hasn't gone to court and got it quashed. It is a tactic to show himself helpless..."

Chandigarh Mayoral Polls Fallout

The AAP ripped into the BJP this week after the latter's surprise win in the Chandigarh mayoral race. The AAP-Congress alliance - under the INDIA umbrella, its first electoral foray - had the numbers but fell short by four votes after eight - from Mr Kejriwal's party - were "invalidated" for unspecified reasons.

READ | Arvind Kejriwal's "Like Trump" Warning After AAP, Congress' Poll Loss

Speaking to reporters after the results, Mr Kejriwal drew parallels to former United States President Donald Trump - who contested the transfer of power after he lost the 2020 election, claiming his rivals had rigged votes.

In addition to today's protests, the AAP and Congress have approached the Supreme Court. Senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi mentioned the matter, saying the Returning Officer had been "caught on video smudging the ballots", to which Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said, "It will be listed."

Delhi Liquor Policy Case

The AAP has been vociferous in its support of Mr Kejriwal on the liquor policy case front, with senior leaders accusing the BJP of manipulating central agencies to target him. The AAP has repeatedly claimed the BJP's plan is to arrest Mr Kejriwal just before the April/May Lok Sabha election.

Mr Kejriwal was questioned by the Central Bureau of Investigation in April, but has not yet been made an accused, by either agency. If he is arrested today, he becomes the first sitting Chief Minister to be taken into custody. Jharkhand's Hemant Soren avoided that unwanted distinction Wednesday night.

READ | Hemant Soren Sent To Jail For A Day, Probe Agency Custody Decision Today

Three AAP leaders, all former ministers, have been arrested so far. Two - former Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh - were arrested in the liquor policy case, while the third - former Health Minister Satyendra Jain - was arrested in an unrelated case.

All three remain behind bars.

The Delhi liquor case refers to allegations the AAP government's revamped alcohol sales policy of 2022 allowed it to receive crores in kickbacks from cartels, and that this money was channelled into funding election expenses in Goa and other states.

NDTV Explains | What Is Delhi Liquor Policy Case Linked To Arvind Kejriwal's AAP

The AAP has refuted all charges. The Delhi government reported a 27 per cent increase in income from the policy and generated Rs 8,900 crore in revenue. 

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