The Supreme Court on Monday granted protection from arrest to Shiromani Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia till February 23 in a drugs case, reported Bar and Bench. It said that criminal cases were coming up just before the Assembly elections.

Majithia was booked under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act on December 20. He had moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court for anticipatory bail after a Mohali court dismissed his plea on December 24.

On January 24, the High Court cancelled the protection granted to Majithia, a former Punjab minister and brother-in-law of Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal. The politician then moved the Supreme Court, which had granted him protection from arrest till Monday.

The court on Monday said that it was not stopping the proceedings against Majithia permanently.

“We are not saying hold your hands and not control drug mafias,” it said. “But let the elections take place on February 20. At least allow to file nominations.”

The court, however, told Majithia to surrender on February 23 and apply for regular bail.

During Monday’s hearing, advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Majithia, said that his client has never dealt with drugs and claimed the first information report against him was a “classic case of political vendetta”, reported Live Law.

The advocate told the bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana that the first information report was registered based on a Special Task Force report, which was being examined by a High Court-appointed committee.

“I am not named anywhere in the chargesheets filed,” Rohtagi said on behalf of Majithia. “ED [Enforcement Directorate] has also arrested and people have been convicted. Just ahead of elections, this FIR is registered. This is a poll-bound statement.”

The advocate also told the court that the former minister had recorded his statement before the police and was asked questions like why Majithia’s wife had not changed her surname.

Rohtagi also told the court that he was also asked to produce his wedding albums.

“I [Majithia] am a mainstream politician,” the advocate argued. “I am not going to run away. I have no criminal antecedents.”

Rohtagi said that the offences against Majithia are from the period between 2004 and 2015. “Much water has flown since then,” he added. “This is the worst case of hounding.”

Senior advocate P Chidambaram, appearing for the Punjab government, claimed that the case against the former minister was related to international drug trafficking.

“The investigation was delayed due to various reasons,” Chidambaram said. “Till 2017, their [Shiromani Akali Dal’s] government was in power.”

Chidambaram alleged that there were statements recorded by other accused persons in the case about money transactions that Majithia had allegedly mediated.

On police seeking Majithia’s wedding album, the senior advocate said that it was sought to ascertain if one of the accused persons had attended the wedding.

However, the court told Chidambaram to advise the state administration to refrain from filing such cases before the elections.

“I know political vendetta exists,” Chidambaram responded. “But I assure [you] this case has a long history.”