Can CM Kejriwal run Delhi from jail? Here's what the law says

And can the Aam Aadmi Party find a successor of comparable stature for the three-time chief minister?

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal being taken to the Enforcement Directorate office, New Delhi, 21 March 2024 (photo: PTI)
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal being taken to the Enforcement Directorate office, New Delhi, 21 March 2024 (photo: PTI)

NH Digital

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal's arrest by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Thursday night, 21 March, raises one big question: Can he now run the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government from custody?

Shortly after his arrest in connection with an alleged liquor policy scam, AAP leader Atishi declared during a press conference that Arvind Kejriwal would not step down from his position. If required, she said, he would run the government from jail. (During a demonstration today, the Delhi minister herself has since been detained as well.)

Delhi minister Atishi being detained during a protest at ITO on 22 March
Delhi minister Atishi being detained during a protest at ITO on 22 March
(photo: PTI)

With elections round the corner, Arvind Kejriwal has become the second Opposition leader in less than two months to be arrested by the ED. The central government agency had detained Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren in January 2024 on suspicion of graft — though he had time to step down and hand over the government before he was taken into custody.

According to a Times of India report, constitutional expert S.K. Sharma says the law does not specifically require the chief minister of a state to step down and hand over power to someone else in the event of an arrest.

However, there are logistical issues to consider, at the very least, as Sharma told TOI: "Former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav made his wife Rabri Devi the chief minister of the state when he was arrested. More recently, Hemant Soren in Jharkhand also resigned. Calling cabinet meetings in the jail or review meetings with officials in his cell does not seem practical."

But such mere practicalities aside, there is nothing to prohibit a chief minister from carrying out his official responsibilities while under arrest as disqualification only occurs in the event of a conviction.

As an Economic Times report points out, the Representation of the People Act, 1951, also outlines disqualification provisions for specific offences.

Rather than how he will govern, the more formidable challenge for the AAP now is finding a successor of comparable stature to Arvind Kejriwal, the three-time Delhi chief minister — in the unlikely event it is necessitated.

Meanwhile, other Opposition parties have roundly condemned Arvind Kejriwal's arrest ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls in a show of solidarity—even some of those that have fought the AAP on its own turf.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi called it an attempt by “a scared dictator” who “wants to create a dead democracy”.

In a post on X, Gandhi vehemently condemned the arrest and said, 'A scared dictator wants to create a dead democracy.

'While capturing all the institutions including the media, breaking up the parties, extorting money from companies, freezing the account of the main opposition party was not enough for the 'devilish power', now the arrest of the elected chief ministers has also become a common thing. [The I.N.D.I.A. bloc] will give a befitting reply to this.'

In a post on X, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee said, 'Today, our INDIA alliance will meet the EC to express our strong objection to the deliberate targeting and arrests of opposition leaders, particularly during the [Model Code of Conduct] period.'

Extending his support to Arvind Kejriwal, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote on X: 'The arrest of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is outright vicious and part of a callous plot to silence all opposition voices just ahead of the general elections. This exposes the cowardice of those who fear democratic process and calls for collective action to resist abuse of power.'

Meanwhile, Congress workers held a midnight protest march in Kozhikode against Kejriwal's arrest.

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