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Interim bail to Kejriwal a classic case of judiciary adopting a holistic approach

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Supreme Court takes a ‘political’ decision as response to a political wrongdoing

By K Raveendran

In granting interim relief to Kejriwal, the Supreme Court has shown the willingness to go beyond technicalities and take a ‘political’ stand against what has been widely seen as a political arrest by the Modi government. The decision by the bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta will be remembered for long as a landmark for a holistic approach and being guided by the spirit of the law rather than its letter.
Kejriwal’s arrest on March 21, 2024, by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with a money laundering case tied to the Delhi liquor policy, came at a critical juncture just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. This timing raised eyebrows and led to allegations of political motivations behind his arrest. The Supreme Court’s decision to grant him interim bail until June 1, 2024, is therefore seen as a befitting response from the court to a political move by the ruling party.
The judiciary is expected to function independently of political influence, ensuring that justice is served without bias. However, the circumstances surrounding Kejriwal’s arrest and the subsequent bail reveal that the Supreme Court’s decision was influenced by the political context rather than purely legal considerations. The court’s decision to grant bail, despite strong opposition from the ED, which argued that the right to campaign was neither a fundamental nor a constitutional right, suggests a recognition of the political implications of Kejriwal’s continued detention.
“Given the prodigious importance (of general elections), we reject the argument raised on behalf of the prosecution that grant of interim bail/release on this account would be giving premium of placing the politicians in a beneficial 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 judges observed. The court also raised doubts about the timing of the arrest, which happened to be the run-up to the elections and wondered why the arrest took place at that juncture despite the fact that the case has been going on since August 2022. So, it didn’t take much effort for the court to see the ‘political’ angle of the arrest, prompting it to respond the way it has.
The Supreme Court’s rationale for granting bail included several points that could be seen as taking into account the political landscape. The court noted that Kejriwal had no criminal antecedents, was not a threat to society, and that the accusations, while serious, had not led to a conviction. Additionally, the court observed that the gap between the initiation of proceedings in the alleged Delhi excise scam case and Kejriwal’s arrest was concerning, questioning why the arrest was made right before the Lok Sabha polls.
Critics might argue that the Supreme Court’s decision reflects a broader trend of judicial actions being perceived through a political lens. The court’s acknowledgment of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections and the importance of Kejriwal’s role in it could be seen as an indication that the judiciary does not consider itself to be immune to the political climate. This perception is further reinforced by the court’s statement that while examining the question of grant of interim bail, the peculiarities associated with the person in question and the surrounding circumstances must be considered.
Supporters of Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as well as the constituents of opposition INDIA Bloc have hailed the decision as a victory for democracy, suggesting that the judiciary had acted to correct a perceived political wrong. On the other hand, the ED’s opposition to the bail, citing the continuous nature of elections in India and the potential precedent it would set, has failed to impress the court, despite an expressed concern that the judiciary must avoid stepping into the political arena.
The Supreme Court’s decision can be analysed from multiple angles. Legally, it upholds the principle of bail being the norm and jail the exception, especially when the accused has not been convicted. Politically, it raises questions about the extent to which the political narrative can influence the court. The decision also has implications for the electoral process, as it allows a key political figure to participate in the elections, potentially affecting the outcome.
Bail to Kejriwal has been seen as a morale booster for the opposition bloc, whose constituents had rallied round his arrest to put up joint resistance, despite the political differences that persisted among themselves over electoral adjustments in individual states. Just as the arrest served as a rallying point, the bail is expected to provide new impetus to the fight against blatantly authoritarian traits of the Modi government. (IPA Service)

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