Their spouses arrested, Sunita Kejriwal, Kalpana Soren take INDIA bloc stage, call for defeating BJP

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, jailed Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal's wife Sunita Kejriwal and jailed former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren's wife Kalpana Soren during I.N.D.I.A. bloc's 'Loktantra Bachao Rally' at Ramleela Maidan, in New Delhi, Sunday, March 31, 2024.
Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, jailed Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal's wife Sunita Kejriwal and jailed former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren's wife Kalpana Soren during I.N.D.I.A. bloc's 'Loktantra Bachao Rally' at Ramleela Maidan, in New Delhi, Sunday, March 31, 2024.

New Delhi | Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's wife Sunita and former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren's wife Kalpana addressed a rally of the opposition bloc INDIA for the first time on Sunday and made a strong pitch for voting out the BJP, in an indication of their larger political role following the arrest of their spouses.

Two chairs were kept empty for Arvind Kejriwal and Hemant Soren at the 'Loktantra Bachao' (save democracy) rally at the Ramlila Maidan here, and their spouses blamed the BJP-led central government for the arrests.

Several opposition leaders expressed solidarity with Kalpana Soren and Sunita Kejriwal, with Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray saying, "When two of our sisters are fighting, how can the brothers stay behind?...Not just us, the whole country is with you."

Sunita has come into the limelight following the Delhi chief minister's arrest by the Enforcement Directorate in an excise policy-linked money laundering case on March 21.

A former IRS officer, she was earlier seen only on stage lending him support or acknowledging party workers. After the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) registered a historic mandate in Delhi in 2015 by winning 67 out of the 70 assembly seats, Arvind Kejriwal had posted a tweet thanking her for always being there with him. In a picture, he could also be seen hugging her in joy.

Nearly a year after Arvind Kejriwal became chief minister, Sunita had taken voluntary retirement from the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) in 2016, after serving for nearly 22 years in the Income Tax department.

Following his arrest, she has held digital briefings where she read out his messages from the ED's custody.

At the INDIA bloc rally on Sunday, she not only read out his message and announced his six "guarantees" but also called him a "sher" (lion) and asserted that he would not remain behind bars for long.

She began her address by asking whether Arvind Kejriwal's arrest was right. "Our Prime Minister Modi ji put my husband in jail. Did the prime minister do the right thing? Do you all believe that Kejriwal ji is a true patriot and honest person? These BJP people are saying that Arvind Kejriwal is in jail, he should resign. Should Arvind Kejriwal ji resign?" she asked.

Reading out the message from Arvind Kejriwal, she told the gathering, "Keep dreaming about an India which can provide education and health care for all irrespective of whether they are rich or poor.... If you give an opportunity to the INDIA bloc, we will build a great nation."

Following Kejriwal's arrest, the challenge before the AAP is to come up with a worthy leader who could handle both the party and its government in Delhi. The name of Sunita Kejriwal has been doing the rounds as a possible replacement for the arrested leader.

As Sunita engaged in more political activities in the absence of her husband, the BJP equated her with former Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi, who had made a foray into politics in similar circumstances.

She is perhaps preparing to hold the post of her husband, Union minister and BJP leader Hardeep Singh Puri said on Friday. "The madam you are naming is perhaps preparing to hold the post like Rabri Devi did in Bihar."

The wives of jailed AAP leaders Sanjay Singh and Satyendar Jain were also present at the rally, while Manish Sisodia's wife sent her wishes as she could not come to the event owing to her frail health.

Kejriwal, Sisodia and Singh were arrested in the excise policy case, while Jain was arrested in a separate money laundering case.

Weeks before the ED took Kejriwal in custody, it arrested Hemant Soren on January 31 in a money laundering case linked to an alleged land scam in Jharkhand. Shortly before his arrest, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Soren resigned as chief minister.

At the INDIA bloc rally, his wife Kalpana Soren said the people gathered there was against the autocratic forces that are attacking democracy.

"We the tribals have a long story of struggle and sacrifices. We are proud of our history," she said.

"All the guarantees provided by Babasaheb's Constitution are being destroyed by the NDA government. One by one they have demolished constitutional agencies. The way unemployment and inflation are on the rise, communal disharmony is being spread...," she said.

"Some parties may think of themselves as having absolute power, but people have the real power. Use your finger to vote for INDIA bloc in the polls. If you want to save your country, democracy, use your vote wisely," she said.

Kalpana made her first major public appearance on March 4, the JMM foundation day, when she made an emotional speech on her husband's arrest, and had pledged to continue the struggle. She hails from Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, has a Masters in Engineering and an MBA degree.

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