Kejriwal walks out of Tihar after SC grants interim bail but cannot attend office, sign files

New Delhi, May 10 (PTI) Embattled Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal walked out of the Tihar Jail on Friday evening, hours after the Supreme Court granted him interim bail in a money laundering case to enable him to campaign in the Lok Sabha elections, in a huge relief to his party struggling to gain momentum in the absence of its foremost leader.

The court, however, barred him from visiting his office or the Delhi secretariat, and signing official files unless absolutely necessary for obtaining the lieutenant governor’s approval.

Setting him free for 21 days to hit the hustings for the remaining phases of the Lok Sabha elections after 50 days of custody in the money laundering case linked to the alleged Delhi excise scam, the court said he shall surrender on June 2, a day after the last phase of the seven-phase poll gets over.

The fourth phase of polling will be held on May 13.

Kejriwal, 55, thanked the Supreme Court judges for granting him interim bail and the people for their blessings.

“We have to save the country from dictatorship, I will fight with all my might but need the support of 140 crore people,” he told the media after stepping out of Tihar Jail in round neck T-shirt and trousers.

The AAP national convenor, who has often flaunted his devotion to Lord Hanuman, which many feel is an attempt to blunt the BJP’s Hindutva politics, said it was because of Him that he was out of jail.

Smiling broadly and waving at his supporters through the sky roof of his car, Kejriwal invited them to join him during his visit to the Hanuman temple at Connaught Place at 11 a.m. on Saturday for his “darshan”. Scores of yellow AAP flags with its broom election symbol fluttered as his vehicle inched forward on way to the chief minister’s official residence.

A wave of jubilation swept across the INDIA bloc parties as the news spread like wildfire, with his AAP terming it a “triumph of truth”.

“Truth can be troubled but not defeated. The decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court is welcome. The dictatorship will end. Satyamev Jayate,” AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh, also an accused in the money laundering case, said in a post in Hindi on X.

However, Union Home Minister Amit Shah sought to downplay his release.

“This is not regular bail. It is an interim bail. He can campaign but every time he goes to campaign, people will be reminded of the excise scam,” he said in West Bengal’s Raniganj.

“Hanuman ji ki jai. This is the victory of democracy. It is the result of the prayers and blessings of millions of people. Many thanks to everyone,” Kejriwal’s wife Sunita, who was filling in for her husband during his absence from the electoral battleground, said in a post on X in Hindi.

Kejriwal’s release from jail, however transient, is expected to give a boost to the AAP’s Lok Sabha campaign in Delhi where polling is scheduled for May 25.

Whie imposing a string of bail conditions on Kejriwal, the apex court directed him to furnish bail bonds of Rs 50,000 with one surety of the like amount to the satisfaction of the jail superintendent.

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta rejected the argument of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) counsel that enlarging Kejriwal on interim bail to campaign in the elections will be without a precedent.

The court did not concur with his contention that interim bail to the AAP national convenor for campaigning would be like giving “premium of placing the politicians in a benefic position compared to ordinary citizens of this country”.

“While examining the question of grant of interim bail/release, the courts always take into consideration the peculiarities associated with the person in question and the surrounding circumstances. In fact, to ignore the same would be iniquitous and wrong,” the bench said, adding that the Lok Sabha elections are the “most significant and an important event this year”.

The bench said no doubt, serious accusations have been made, but Kejriwal has not been convicted yet, does not have any criminal antecedents and is “not a threat to the society”.

It noted that more importantly, the legality and validity of his arrest itself was under challenge before the top court which is yet to finally pronounce its verdict on the petition.

Ruling that Kejriwal’s case is “not an exception”, the bench said power to grant interim bail is commonly exercised in a number of cases and interim bail is granted keeping in mind the facts of each case.

“For the aforesaid reasons, we direct that the appellant – Arvind Kejriwal will be released on interim bail in connection with case… till June 1, 2024, that is, he will surrender on June 2, 2024 on the following terms and conditions…,” the bench said, adding, “he shall not visit the office of the Chief Minister and the Delhi secretariat”.

“He (Kejriwal) shall be bound by the statement made on his behalf that he shall not sign official files unless it is required and necessary for obtaining clearance/approval of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi,” the court said.

Kejriwal will not make any comment with regard to his role in the case and will not interact with any of the witnesses or have access to any official files connected with the case, the bench directed.

“Between 650-700 million voters out of an electorate of about 970 million will cast their votes to elect the government of this country for the next five years. General Elections supply the vis viva (energy) to a democracy,” it said, underlining the importance of the Lok Sabha elections.

The bench said the ED has rightly pointed out that Kejriwal had failed to appear in spite of nine notices/summons, first of which was issued in October 2023.

“This is a negative factor, but there are several other facets which we are required to take into consideration,” it said, adding that Kejriwal is the chief minister and leader of one of the national parties.

The bench noted the investigation in the case has remained pending since August 2022 and Kejriwal was arrested on March 21 this year.

The apex court said the grant of interim bail will not be treated as an expression of opinion on the merits of the case or the criminal appeal which is pending its consideration.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee hailed Kejriwal’s release on interim bail. “I am very happy to see that Shri Arvind Kejriwal @ArvindKejriwal has got interim bail. It will be very helpful in the context of the current elections,” she posted on X.

NCP (SP) chief Sharad Pawar also welcomed the apex court’s decision. “I welcome the interim bail order granted to the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal by the SC. India remains steadfast in the pursuit of democracy,” Pawar wrote on X.

Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Aaditya Thackeray said justice and relief to Kejriwal against the “dictatorial regime” in the country was a huge sign of winds of change.

The apex court is hearing Kejriwal’s plea challenging the Delhi High Court’s verdict last month upholding his arrest in the case. He had not filed an application for interim bail.

The bench said arguments on Kejriwal’s plea against his arrest will continue next week and it will try to pronounce the judgement on the petition before the summer vacations start on May 20.

The matter relates to alleged corruption and money laundering in the formulation and execution of the Delhi government’s now-scrapped excise policy for 2021-22.

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