The narrative of political arrests

The narrative of political arrests

The arrest of Delhi chief minister (CM) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials late Thursday evening was not unexpected — Kejriwal himself has been warning about his impending arrest over his alleged role in the irregularities in the now scrapped 2021 Delhi excise policy. A lot of drama preceded the arrest, which the AAP leadership has described as the “murder of democracy”. The merits of the case will be settled in court, but the big question now is whether his arrest can influence the political narrative ahead of the upcoming general elections.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was arrested by the ED on Thursday (File Photo)(HT_PRINT)

That is a function of three factors. One, will AAP be able to leverage the arrest to effect a change in how Delhi votes? After all, the city-state has consistently picked AAP in local elections and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in national ones. And this time, Delhi will see a bipolar contest between the BJP and the INDIA bloc (in this case, the AAP and the Congress).

Two, will the arrest energise the INDIA bloc of Opposition parties? In the past few months, there have been numerous cases filed against and arrests of Opposition leaders by the Enforcement Directorate and Central Bureau of Investigation, in Jharkhand, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal, among them former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren and Bharat Rashtra Samithi leader K Kavitha, but Kejriwal is, undoubtedly, the most high-profile Opposition leader targeted so far. Can it convince voters of its claim that the BJP has weaponised investigative agencies, and weave in the freezing of the Congress’ accounts and the electoral bond revelations into this narrative? Will this bind together the INDIA bloc, otherwise an inchoate and stumbling set of parties united by their antipathy to the BJP but working at cross purposes to protect individual turfs? Thus far, the grouping’s seat-sharing arrangements have been sub-optimal, and evidence on the ground suggests that there is, at least till now, no coordination on the campaign itself: The messaging, for instance, or rallies involving top leaders of multiple Opposition parties.

Three, can the BJP convince the electorate that the ED action is not political vendetta as claimed by the Opposition, but an essential step to unravel the alleged corruption in Delhi’s short-lived new excise policy, against which, one of the first official complaints was made by the local unit of the Congress, then a bitter opponent of the AAP in Delhi?

Surely, how the narratives pan out in the coming days will have some bearing on the election outcomes, particularly in the national capital that sends seven members of Parliament (MPs) to the Lok Sabha; Punjab, which elects 13 MPs; and Haryana, which sends 10. But it will also have a bearing on the future of the AAP itself — three of its senior leaders are already in prison, and the arrest of Kejriwal, its face and voice, leaves it without either ahead of the elections — and the INDIA bloc.

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