India’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has just arrested a leading Opposition stalwart, Manish Sisodhia of the Aam Ami Party (AAP), Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi state, in an alleged liquor licences scam. The arrest smacks of vendetta more than a moral crusade. AAP was created on the crest of an anti‐corruption wave a decade ago and has been elected in two states, Punjab and Delhi. It threatens the BJP in several more.
The Enforcement Directorate, which investigates tax evasion and foreign exchange misuse, has arrested 121 politicians since the BJP came to power in 2014. Of them as many as 115—a cool 95 percent—belong to the Opposition. Partisan arrests occurred earlier under other parties too in the past, but never was it so brazen and overwhelming. BJP politicians say that the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, may be the next to be arrested.
Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 promising to slash corruption. He has a clean image that has helped him stay in power. But last month Hindenburg Research, a U.S. short seller, came out with a damning research report on the companies of businessman Gautam Adani, a close associate of Modi’s. Adani company shares had skyrocketed in price in the last two years, making him the third richest man in the world. Hindenburg’s report said this was the result of massive share manipulation and accounting fraud.
In consequence, Adani’s share prices crashed, wiping $145 million off his wealth. The government says the charges will be investigated by the relevant regulators. The Opposition parties believe they have Modi on the run on this issue. But the BJP has struck back by accusing and arresting Opposition politicians for corruption.
If this welter of charges and counter‐charges ends in cleaner politics, that would be a desirable outcome. But the judicial system is so slow that the trials will go on forever. Meanwhile what we are seeing is not a road to cleaner politics but greater misuse of investigative powers to crush dissent.