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India summons US diplomat over Kejriwal comments

March 27, 2024

India's Foreign Ministry has protested after the United States joined Germany in raising concerns following the arrest of a leading opposition politician, Arvind Kejriwal. New Delhi summoned a US diplomat on Wednesday.

Security personnel detain AAP workers during their protest outside Patel Chowk metro station against the arrest of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, on March 26, 2024 in New Delhi, India.
Kejrwial's supporters protested in Delhi on Tuesday, demanding his releaseImage: Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times/Sipa USA/picture alliance

India's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that it had summoned a US diplomat to protest Washington's remarks on  the arrest of a senior opposition politician.

It came two days after US officials said they were closely following the situation and encouraged a "fair, transparent and timely legal process" in the case.

On Wednesday, Indian broadcasters showed the senior US diplomat, Gloria Berbena, entering the Foreign Ministry. 

"India's legal processes are based on an independent judiciary which is committed to objective and timely outcomes. Casting aspersions on that is unwarranted," the Foreign Ministry said. 

"In diplomacy, states are expected to be respectful of the sovereignty and internal affairs of others," the statement continued. "This responsibility is even more so in case of fellow democracies. It could otherwise end up setting unhealthy precedents." 

India had issued a similar rebuke and summoned a German envoy over the weekend after the government in Berlin said it assumed and expected standards relating to independence of the judiciary and basic democratic principles would be applied in the case.

Germany: 'great interest in closer cooperation' with India

On Wednesday, a German foreign ministry spokesman told DW that India and Germany have "great interest in closer cooperation" and want to "work together in an atmosphere of trust."

Describing India as an "important partner in Asia," he said the Indian constitution "guarantees fundamental human values and freedoms" which Germany shares. The remarks could be an attempt to de-escalate tensions between Germany and India.

Who is Arvind Kejriwal, why was he arrested? 

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), was arrested last week, along with much of the party's leadership, on allegations of corruption. 

Members of the Aam Aadmi (or "Common Man") Party were detained during a protest against Kejriwal's detention on TuesdayImage: Manish Swarup/AP/picture alliance

His role is comparable with that of a governor in the US or a state premier in Germany. Cosmopolitan Delhi is one of comparatively few parts of India where Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not hold the upper hand. 

Kejriwal alleges that the charges against him and his party are politically motivated and a bid to hamper their campaigning for the country's general election this year, which begins in mid-April and runs through early June. 

The BJP, meanwhile, says India's judicial system is prosecuting the party independently and denies any government interference. Some have questioned the timeline, with the AAP arrests starting soon after election dates were announced.

Top opposition figure arrested in India ahead of elections


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The AAP last month struck a deal to join forces with India's other main opposition party, Congress — despite a long and bitter rivalry between the two groups — in a bid to pose a more credible challenge to the BJP nationwide. In all, the alliance comprises dozens of parties, but AAP and Congress are the largest.

Still, most analysts perceive the BJP as favorites for the vote, with its policies resonant with many members of the country's majority Hindu faith. 

India a crucial Asian ally for West, but tensions with BJP also evident

India, the most populous country on the planet, is seen by Western countries as a crucial democratic counterweight to fellow giant China's influence in Asia. 

European and NATO countries have been trying to cultivate closer ties with New Delhi as a result. 

However, tensions between western countries and India have been evident in several spheres in recent years. The country's neutral stance on the war in Ukraine, given its historically close ties to Russia and the Soviet Union before it, has probably contributed somewhat to this. 

In more concrete terms, Modi's government responded starkly last year to allegations from Canada that Indian secret services appear to have been involved in the murder of a Sikh nationalist.

A similar subsequent investigation in the US, albeit pertaining to an alleged murder plot rather than a killing, has also strained ties. 

Kejriwal planning to continue governing from custody

Meanwhile, in Delhi, Kejriwal was appearing at a bail hearing on Wednesday. 

He says he intends to continue carrying out his duties as the Delhi metropolitan area's top politician from custody if necessary. 

BJP supporters also demonstrated in Delhi on Tuesday; they were demanding that Kejriwal step down given his detentionImage: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times/Sipa USA/picture alliance

Supporters of both the AAP and the BJP staged protests in the capital on Tuesday, with AAP supporters demanding his release and BJP supporters demanding he step down.

Police in the capital took measures to suppress or control both protests, detaining some people and also using water cannons.

msh/wmr (AFP, Reuters)

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