Chautala arrests changes contours of Haryana politics

Chandigarh, Jan 18 (IANS) The conviction and arrest of its two most senior leaders, including former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala, on bribery charges, has changed the contours of Haryana's politics and given some relief to Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.

Haryana's main opposition Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) will find it tough to remain in political contention in the state in the absence of its party president and his elder son Ajay Chautala, arrested in the JBT (junior basic trained) teachers' recruitment scam and convicted by a Delhi court.

Chautala senior, 78, son of Haryana political strongman and former deputy prime minister Devi Lal, had been active in recent months in attacking the Hooda-led Congress government in the state, especially on issues of corruption and lawlessness. With their conviction in a corruption case, the INLD will find it difficult to sustain this.

With the father-son duo in Delhi's Tihar Jail and awaiting punishment, the INLD, which was in election mode, will find it difficult to maintain the political credibility of the party in the eyes of its supporters and people of the state.

Chautala's younger son Abhey Chautala, who got controversially elected as the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president, has been left to lead and steer the party in the present political crisis. He has blamed the whole case on "political vendetta".

Legally speaking, Chautala, who heads the opposition in the Haryana assembly, cannot even contest the next election (under the Representation of the People Act) until he gets the CBI court's order reversed by a higher court. That is not going to be easy.

The CBI court will pronounce the punishment for the conviction Jan 22.

Questions are being raised in political quarters about the INLD's ability to maintain a momentum without the former chief minister and his elder son on the scene.

The misery for the Chautala family and the INLD has put the ruling Congress and the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) in an upbeat mood.

The Hooda government, which has battled scams and controversies including the Robert Vadra-DLF land deal, the Gopal Kanda episode, Jat agitations for reservation, series of rapes, attacks on Dalits and rising incidents of crime, has suddenly been rejuvenated by the arrest of the Chautalas.

Hooda and his ministers came out in full strength Wednesday to pin Chautala down for his wrongdoings.

The latest developments have given a lot of hope to the recent political alliance of the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The HJC, led by former chief minister Bhajan Lal's son Kuldip Bishnoi, is trying to project itself as the main contender to take on the Congress at a time when the INLD has hit a low. The INLD used to be a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) till four years back. But the BJP, which leads the NDA, has now joined hands with the HJC in Haryana.

Chautala, his son and 53 others were convicted and arrested in the teachers' recruitment scam Wednesday. They have been accused of tampering with the selection list of over 3,200 teachers recruited in 1999-2000, when he was chief minister, and selecting teachers by taking bribes and for nepotism and favouritism.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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