April 19, 2024

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Indian opposition parties say they are facing a wave of problems as the vote approaches

Indian opposition parties say they are facing a wave of problems as the vote approaches

The head of one of India's main opposition parties was arrested in dramatic fashion on Thursday, the same day another party said it had been denied access to its bank accounts, measures taken by Narendra Modi's government, critics say, to put rivals under surveillance. Which is a disadvantage ahead of the pivotal general elections in April.

Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal was detained late Thursday at his home in New Delhi, where hundreds of demonstrators gathered to protest his arrest by the federal financial crimes agency. Mr Kejriwal, who is also Chief Minister of the New Delhi National Capital Territory, was arrested over corruption allegations related to the city's liquor policy. His party leaders say the accusations are false.

Campaigning is heating up in preparation for the six-week election that begins on April 19 and will determine the next prime minister in the world's most populous democracy. To run campaigns from the Himalayas to the southern shores of India, political groups are spending billions of dollars in what is seen as one of the most expensive elections in the world.

As the vote approaches, opposition figures say they are fighting a wave of trouble from the government, including Mr Modi unleashing the country's main investigative agencies against them while protecting those who switch to his side.

“The central government wants to eliminate all opposition parties,” Delhi Cabinet Minister Atishi Marlena said outside Mr. Kejriwal’s residence, referring to Modi’s government.

She said Mr Kejriwal was about to launch the party's general election campaign.

Mr. Modi's party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has sought to contain the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party since it tried to expand beyond the national capital region of New Delhi. New Delhi's disputed liquor policy of 2021 appears to have presented an opportunity.

Under the policy, the Delhi government allowed private vendors to conduct all liquor sales in the city, a departure from previous regulations that allowed a mix of public and private vendors. The central government accuses Mr. Kejriwal's party officials of taking bribes.

Another politician, Hemant Soren, chief minister of the eastern state of Jharkhand, was arrested in January after federal agents accused him of corruption in land deals. He denied these accusations and submitted his resignation before entering prison.

Mr. Kejriwal's arrest capped a day of political unrest in New Delhi and came shortly after India's largest opposition party accused national authorities of paralyzing its political activities by blocking access to its bank accounts.

Indian National Congress officials said eight of its 11 main accounts at four banks have been frozen, and there is no clear indication of when the party will regain access to funds.

“We cannot support our workers; “We cannot support our candidates,” Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Indian National Congress, said at a press conference in New Delhi. “Our leaders can't fly. Forget flying, they can't take a train.

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“Our ability to contest elections has been damaged,” he said.

The country's income tax department, which is controlled by Modi's government, froze the Congress party's accounts over its 2017-18 filings, saying the party was 45 days late in filing tax returns.

Under Indian law, political groups are exempt from paying income taxes on their funding from individuals and corporations, but must declare their income to the tax authorities every year. The current dispute concerns how severely the Indian National Congress should be punished for past wrongdoing.

The Congress Party acknowledged that the refunds were late, but said freezing its accounts shortly before the election was a tough political move aimed at crippling India's main opposition movement to make way for one-party rule.

“The idea that India is a democracy is a lie,” Mr. Gandhi said.

Modi officials rejected the allegations, describing them as a desperate attempt by a political opposition struggling in an election campaign that is likely to return the BJP to power.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, leader of the ruling party, said the tax exemption for any political group only remains in place if the group declares any contributions to national tax authorities on time.

The issue of political financing in India has exploded in recent weeks. The country's Supreme Court recently forced the government-owned State Bank of India to publish a list of the names of all those who have made anonymous political donations through a financing mechanism known as “electoral bonds,” removing the veil of secrecy that opposition groups have long argued is necessary. Help those in power.

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Mr. Modi's party received the largest amount of money.