What Is The Liquor Policy Case In Which Arvind Kejriwal Was Arrested? What Next For The Delhi CM?

The Supreme Court has granted interim bail to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal till June 2.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal comes out of the Rouse Avenue Court after appearing in the Enforcement Directorate summons case, in New Delhi, Saturday, March 16, 2024. Photo: PTI

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been granted an interim bail till June 1 nearly two months after he was arrested on alleged corruption charges related to the now-scrapped Delhi liquor policy case. His arrest, just weeks before the Lok Sabha elections, turned into a huge political debate with his party members calling it a ”big conspiracy” against the Opposition.

The Aam Aadmi Party leader was at his residence when ED officials arrived and searched his place. Following a search and a questioning session which lasted about two hours, Kejriwal was arrested around 9 pm on Thursday.

Arvind Kejriwal became the first sitting CM to be arrested and he continued to be Delhi CM from prison. "If need be, he will run the government from jail," AAP minister Atishi Singh had claimed in March.

The party moved the Supreme Court on Thursday night for an urgent hearing to quash the arrest of Kejriwal by ED. The matter will be mentioned before the Supreme Court at 10.30 today.

What Is The Liquor Policy Case?

Kejriwal was arrested in connection with an ongoing liquor policy case, under which the ED has previously alleged that through the excise policy implemented by the Delhi Government in November 2021, the AAP was involved in money laundering.

The new policy reduced the legal drinking age to 21, replaced government-owned liquor stores with private entities, and implemented separate registration criteria for different liquor brands based on pricing and sales performance outside Delhi. Additionally, the annual liquor vending license fee was increased significantly from Rs 8 lakh to Rs 75 lakh. The new policy also granted licenses to 849 private vendors through competitive bidding.

The policy was later scrapped after violations were reported.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) alleges that the excise policy was part of a conspiracy to provide a 12 per cent wholesale business profit to certain private companies and was a coordinated effort by Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia, Vijay Nair and others.

Two other AAP leaders Manish Sisodia and Sanjay Singh have previously been arrested in connection with this case. BRS Leader K Kavitha too has been accused of "conspiring" with Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and senior AAP leader Manish Sisodia to "get favours" in the Delhi excise policy formulation and implementation. She is expected to remain in ED custody till March 23.

What is next for the Delhi CM?

The arrest of the Delhi CM stirred up a political storm in the capital, with the Aam Aadmi Party members along with prominent opposition leaders from the INDIA bloc coming out in support of Kejriwal. AAP called for nationwide protest against the CM's arrest, calling it a "political conspiracy". Speaking to the media, AAP minister Atishi Singh had said that Arvind Kejriwal "is, was, and will remain the Delhi Chief Minister". 

There has been widespread debate about the feasibility of running the government from jail with many legal experts calling it a logistical challenge. However, Singh had said, “There is no law which prohibits him from running the government from jail. He has not been convicted and will remain the Delhi CM.”

However, it also worked as a glue to bring members of the INDIA bloc together at a time when tough talks on seat-sharing were still going on. Big rallies of the INDIA bloc were organised in Delhi and Ranchi where two seats – one for Kejriwal and one for Hemant Soren – were kept vacant symbolically as their wives, Sunita Kejriwal and Kalpana Soren emerged as the new faces of the opposition parties.

Although the Enforcement Directorate (ED) opposed Kejriwal’s interim bail saying the right to campaign for elections was "not fundamental", as per the Supreme Court order, there are no restrictions on what he can say or not say in his election campaigning. The AAP cancelled all campaign plans scheduled for the day as soon as the verdict was announced. The schedules are expected depending on Kejriwal’s release. 

Over the next few weeks, the Delhi CM could spearhead campaigns in Delhi and Punjab, not only for the AAP but also for INDIA bloc. The Delhi CM, however, has to surrender and return to jail on June 2.