Chautala, son in jail for graft

New Delhi, Jan. 16: Two generations of a political dynasty today lost for the time being their right to contest polls and freedom as a CBI court convicted former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala and his son Ajay in a corruption case and sent them to jail.

Om Prakash Chautala is the son of the late Devi Lal whose rustic ways symbolised Jat politics once and whose staunch opposition to the Emergency earned him the sobriquet Lion of Haryana. Devi Lal, known as Tau (uncle), eventually became deputy Prime Minister of the country.

The cross-generational conviction marks another moment in the heat and dust of Haryana politics, which once contributed the coinage "aaya ram, gaya ram" that captured the absurdity of frequent floor-crossings.

Chautala and Ajay, an MLA, and 53 others were convicted for the illegal recruitment of thousands of schoolteachers.

"All the accused are held guilty of the offences of cheating, forgery, using fake documents as genuine, conspiracy under the IPC and for abusing their official position under the Prevention of Corruption Act," the court said.

Special judge Vinod Kumar also said there was a "complete chain of circumstances which pinned down accused Om Prakash Chautala as the main conspirator".

The court fixed January 22 as the date for pronouncing the sentence. But experts on election rules said the two stood automatically disqualified from fighting elections for the next six years.

A top Election Commission official said under Section 8(1)(m) of the Representation of People's Act, 1951, anyone convicted of corruption or for terror-related offences would be disqualified from contesting for six years, even if the sentence was only a fine.

"The disqualification takes effect from the date of conviction, irrespective of the sentence," the official explained. "The disqualification remains in force whether the person convicted gets released on bail or not."

This means even if a higher court stays the trial court's verdict, Chautala and his son cannot contest elections till they are cleared.

But as sitting MLA, Ajay, 51, will get three months to appeal and can continue to hold his Assembly seat if a higher court stays his conviction.

The rules say "none of the above mentioned disqualification will take effect… till three months have elapsed" if, on the date of conviction, the person convicted is an MP or a member of a state legislature.

Chautala's younger son Abhay said his father, who heads the Opposition INLD, and brother would appeal the order. "We will study the judgment and approach a higher court," PTI quoted Abhay, who is also an MLA, as saying.

The alleged scam goes back to 1999-2000 when 3,206 junior basic teachers were recruited by the then INLD-led government. The CBI, which had charged Chautala, Ajay and 60 other accused of using forged documents, said several crores of rupees had changed hands.

The agency had taken up the probe following a directive from the Supreme Court in 2003 after an IAS officer, Sanjeev Kumar, had approached it challenging the state police's investigations into the scandal.

Among the 55 convicted today were IAS officer Kumar, then director of primary education, Chautala's former officer on special duty Vidya Dhar and Sher Singh Badshami, political adviser to the then chief minister.

Of the 62 accused, six died during the trial while one was discharged.

After the court pronounced its judgment, all the convicts were taken away to Tihar jail.

INLD sources said the convictions may have come as a personal setback for the Chautala family but party leaders saw the order as a trigger to revive the outfit, which was a BJP ally till 2009.

The Chautalas face several corruption cases but this one, the sources said, was nothing to be ashamed of as it was linked to giving jobs to people.

Key INLD leaders, led by Abhay, have already launched a campaign to spread the message that their leaders had been jailed for giving jobs to ordinary party workers. Most of the beneficiaries of the scam were INLD workers.

The INLD, which has a committed Jat vote bank, remains the Congress's main rival in Haryana.

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