The United Nations said on Thursday that it hopes the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in India are held in a free and fair atmosphere.

“What we very much hope that in India, as in any country that is having elections, that everyone’s rights are protected, including political and civil rights, and everyone is able to vote in an atmosphere that is free and fair,” Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said while responding to a media query on the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Kejriwal was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on March 21 in connection with the Delhi liquor excise policy case. He is the first sitting chief minister to have been arrested.

Dujarric’s remarks came a day after the United States reiterated that it “encouraged “fair, transparent, and timely legal processes”.

Mathew Miller, the US State Department’s spokesperson, in a media briefing on Wednesday, said Washington was also aware of the Congress party’s allegations that the Income Tax Department had frozen some of its bank accounts in a manner that would make it challenging to campaign effectively.

Spokesperson for the External Affairs Ministry Randhir Jaiswal said on Thursday that Miller’s remarks were “unwarranted”.

“Any such external imputation on our electoral and legal processes is completely unacceptable,” said Jaiswal. “In India, legal processes are driven only by the rule of law. Anyone who has similar ethos, especially fellow democracies, should have no difficulty in appreciating this fact. India is proud of its independent and robust democratic institutions.”

The spokesperson also said the Indian government was committed to protecting its democratic institution from any “form of undue external influences”.

“Mutual respect and understanding form the foundation of international relations and [United] States are expected to be respectful of the sovereignty and internal affairs of others,” he said.

India lodges protest

Earlier on Wednesday, the External Affairs Ministry summoned Gloria Berbena, the United States’ acting deputy mission chief in New Delhi, to lodge a protest about the remarks made by the US Department of State on Kejriwal’s arrest.

The US Department of State said on Monday that it is closely following reports on Kejriwal’s arrest and encouraged a “fair, transparent and timely” legal process in the case.

Jaisal had said that New Delhi has taken “strong objection to the remarks of the Spokesperson of the US State Department about certain legal proceedings in India”.

“In diplomacy, states are expected to be respectful of the sovereignty and internal affairs of others,” said Jaiswal. “This responsibility is even more so in case of fellow democracies. It could otherwise end up setting unhealthy precedents.”

He added: “India’s legal processes are based on an independent judiciary which is committed to objective and timely outcomes. Casting aspersions on that is unwarranted.”

Kejriwal’s arrest had drawn reactions from Germany as well.

On March 22, a spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry said that it had taken note of the Aam Aadmi Party chief’s arrest.

“We assume and expect that the standards relating to the independence of the judiciary and basic democratic principles will also be applied in this case,” the German foreign ministry had said. “Like anyone facing accusations, Mr Kejriwal is entitled to a fair and impartial trial.”

On Saturday, the External Affairs Ministry summoned Georg Enzweiler, the German embassy’s deputy chief of mission in New Delhi, to protest the comments.

Case against Kejriwal

The Enforcement Directorate’s case is based on a first information report registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation alleging irregularities in the Delhi government’s liquor excise policy, which has been scrapped.

The policy came into effect in November 2021. It was withdrawn on July 30, 2022, with Delhi Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena recommending an investigation into the alleged irregularities of the policy.

The Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate have alleged that the Aam Aadmi Party government modified Delhi’s liquor excise policy to ensure a 12% profit margin for wholesalers and a nearly 185% profit margin for retailers.

The Enforcement Directorate has also claimed that members of a “South Group” had paid at least Rs 100 crore in kickbacks to leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party through businessman Vijay Nair, who is currently in jail.

On Thursday, a Delhi court extended Kejriwal’s remand to the Enforcement Directorate till April 1.

On March 21, the Aam Aadmi Party chief was sent to the central law enforcement agency’s custody​ till March 28.