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India's anti-graft party chief jailed for refusing to pay bond in defamation case

Published on May 21, 2014 8:16 PM
 
Indian Aam Admi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal is seen outside a courthouse in New Delhi on May 21, 2014. The anti-corruption campaigner was sent to jail for refusing to pay a bond, just hours after declaring he was ready to fight fresh elections in Delhi to revive his party's fortunes. -- PHOTO: AFP   

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India’s anti-corruption campaigner Arvind Kejriwal was sent to jail on Wednesday for refusing to pay a bond, just hours after declaring he was ready to fight fresh elections in Delhi to revive his party’s fortunes.

A Delhi court ordered Mr Kejriwal be taken into judicial custody for refusing to pay 10,000 rupees (S$214) in bail after he was sued for defamation by a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is set to come to power.

Mr Kejriwal included BJP leader Nitin Gadkari in a list of politicians released earlier this year that he branded the country’s most corrupt. The list included Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi and the then finance minister.

Mr Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) denied that his refusal to pay the bail after appearing in court was a publicity stunt, shortly after saying he would seek a new round of polls in the Delhi state assembly.

“Yes, this is a case against corruption. How else will we fight corruption? If we have to pay this price (going to jail), it is OK with us,” AAP leader Ashutosh, who goes by one name, told news channel CNN-IBN.

Mr Kejriwal, who has gained a reputation for taking on the country’s political and business elite over corruption issues, will remain in jail until Friday when the next court hearing is scheduled.

He and his AAP (“Common Man”) party won only four seats at the country’s just-concluded general election, in a dismal showing after securing mass support last year for his fight to clean up graft-ridden politics.

The former tax-official-turned-politician, who personally failed to win a seat, admitted on Wednesday that he had made a mistake in quitting as Delhi chief minister to contest the general election.

“We made a mistake by quitting earlier and we apologise for that,” Mr Kejriwal told reporters. “We told them to get ready for the (state) elections. We will go to the people in the city and tell them about the situation and also seek their forgiveness.”

The AAP stunned the major parties last December in the Delhi state election in its debut electoral outing.

Riding a wave of voter anger over endemic corruption in government and everyday life, it won 28 seats and formed a state government with support from the Congress party, which won eight seats.

But Mr Kejriwal quit as chief minister only 49 days later when Congress and the BJP blocked his efforts to set up an anti-corruption commission.

He was known for his “anarchist” actions while he was chief minister, including sleeping overnight on a pavement in the capital to press for police reform.

After his resignation, Mr Kejriwal shrugged off claims that he was walking away from the tough job of governing the capital, saying he wanted to take on Congress and the BJP at the national level.

BJP leader Narendra Modi is set to be sworn in as prime minister on Monday after his party won a landslide victory at the election, trouncing Congress.

Local media said Mr Kejriwal had been trying in recent days to reform government in Delhi state, which has been under the rule of the city’s lieutenant-governor since his own shock resignation.

But after Mr Kejriwal met the governor on Tuesday, Congress ruled out extending further support to the AAP – which it needs to pass state legislation. The governor could now dissolve the assembly, which has been suspended since Mr Kejriwal’s resignation, forcing the fresh elections.

Mr Kejriwal said there are now “no possibilities to make a government and we should be ready to fight elections again”.

Analysts say he would face a battle in any new Delhi election, because of a “tsunami” of support for the BJP.

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