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Indian anti-graft campaigner taken into custody

May 21, 2014

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian authorities took a prominent anti-corruption campaigner into custody on Wednesday after he refused to pay bail in connection with a defamation case against him.

Arvind Kejriwal was taken into custody hours after he held an emotional news conference apologizing for resigning as New Delhi’s top elected official just 49 days into the job.

Kejriwal was sued by Nitin Gadkari, a top leader of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party, for making corruption allegations against him.

He refused to pay the 10,000 rupee ($170) bail bond that would have kept him out of jail. Instead, he offered to give the court a written statement promising to appear for all hearings in the case, but the court refused that.

Kejriwal is known for his uncanny ability to garner media attention through hunger strikes, sit-ins, protests and courting arrest.

“He deliberately chooses to remain in jail. I think he has chosen this route because it suits him politically,” Gadkari’s lawyer Pinky Anand told reporters.

Leaders of Kejriwal’s party denied that charge. The next court hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday.

Earlier Wednesday, Kejriwal held a news conference to apologize to the citizens of Delhi for quitting as their top elected official less than two months into the job.

“Today I would like to apologize to the people of Delhi and the people of this country. We have made a mistake and I apologize for our mistake,” he said, adding that his exit made people think they were running away from responsibility.

Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man’s Party, was formed on the back of hugely popular street protests that galvanized India’s middle class against the culture of corruption that is endemic in this nation of 1.2 billion. The election for the Delhi state legislature was the party’s first outing, and even its members were surprised they won 27 out of 70 seats in Delhi’s assembly in December.

But the minority government resigned in February after the Congress party voted with the opposition to block a bill to create a strong ombudsman in the capital. Rooting out graft and creating the ombudsman position were the party’s key aims, and Kejriwal said the party members left government because they did not want to compromise their principles.

Their detractors said Kejriwal and his party quit because they were eager to parlay their initial success into nationwide prominence.

But in the recent national election, the party won only four seats in India’s 543-member lower house of Parliament. Kejriwal himself lost by a wide margin to the man who will become India’s next prime minister, Narendra Modi.

Delhi state is now federally ruled, in the absence of an elected government.

Kejriwal said he would seek a fresh mandate from voters in the next Delhi elections. An election date will be decided after the new national government takes office.

Update hourly