In January 2013, Indian National Lok Dal leader and former Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala was convicted, along with 54 other politicians, in a high profile case involving malpractices in the recruitment of teachers for the state of Haryana. Prior to this Mr. Chautala had earned a reputation as one of the most influential politicians of the state and held the office of the Chief Minister four times – between December 2, 1989 and May 22, 1990; for a mere 5 days between July 12, 1990 and July 17, 1990; again briefly between March 22, 1991 and April 6, 1991; and again a long spell between July 24, 1999 and March 4, 2005. By the turn of the millennium, Mr. Chautala’s position in Haryana was virtually unassailable.
In June 2008, after having acceded the Chief Minister’s chair to Indian National Congress candidate Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Mr. Chautala also faced serious corruption charges. The Teachers Recruitment Scam, better known as the JBT Scam, became a major political issue. In 1999, the Chautala administration had recruited about 3206 Junior Basic Trained (JBT) teachers. It was alleged that the CM had received about a bribe of INR 3 – 4 lakhs from each teacher. In January 2013, a New Delhi court sentenced Mr. Chautala to 10 years rigorous imprisonment. On July 11, 2014, the Delhi High court had reserved its verdict on the appeal of Mr. Chautala. This verdict is still pending.
Campaigning on bail
On May 21, 2014, the 79-year old politician cited his advanced age and frail health conditions to obtain an interim bail on health grounds. Despite having been granted bail solely to undergo medical treatment at Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon, Mr. Chautala plunged headlong into the explosive political situation in the state. Bail extensions were sought and granted over the past months. All 90 assembly seats in Haryana went to polls October 15 and the results of the polls are awaited on October 19. In the run up to the polls, Mr. Chautala addressed a number of political rallies including a huge political rally hosted by his party to mark the 100th birth anniversary of his father Devi Lal in the Jind district of the state. While a debate about his participation in election activities started to break out, the court seemed likely to order constitution of a medical board of doctors from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and judge the need of keeping Chautala’s bail intact. Mr. Chautala offered to surrender to the court on September 26. The court fixed October 17 as his date of surrender.
Given Mr. Chautala’s continued participation in election activity, the CBI moved Delhi High Court to cancel Mr. Chautala’s bail. By throwing himself into a very furious election campaign, the former CM had violated the terms of his bail, the CBI argued. The court was asked to advance his date of surrender. The Delhi High Court concurred; the judge remarked, “I am pained and disappointed with Chautala’s act. Now that he is discharged from hospital, he should surrender”. On October 11, 2014, the Delhi High Court asked the former CM to surrender within 24 hours and the next day Mr Chautala was back behind bars.
Om Prakash Chautala’s incarceration has left the INLD far from dejected. The leader’s declaration that he has been victimized and the CBI misused by the Congress, has fired up the ranks of his party and his support has now reached great heights. “Whether I contest elections or not, I wish to make it clear that I will be the chief minister of Haryana and will take oath from Tihar Jail if needed”, he promised in his address at the September 25 Jind rally.
Can Chautala become CM?
Can OP Chautala possibly take hold of the CM’s chair without contesting elections in the state? The INLD head honchos certainly seem to think so. While the Supreme Court of India certainly disallows a convicted person from contesting the polls, no such restriction exists for becoming CM, says Dushyant Chautala, the INLD Member of Parliament from Hisar Lok Sabha Constituency and grandson of OP Chautala. Nearly 25 percent of Haryana voters are jats, and OP Chautala’s exercises considerable influence over this single largest voting bloc of the state. Chautala continues to hold that he has been targeted by both the INC and the BJP for providing 3,206 young men and women with a well-deserved employment opportunity. The sympathy garners by the statement in jat belts is considerable. With the Congress facing anti-incumbency in the state BJP may be considered INLD’s only serious threat in the state.
What is certainly clear that there is no rift in the INLD leadership and Chautala offers a unified and resolute leadership to the party. If OP Chautala is indeed the CM choice of the INLD, it is likely that MP Dushyant Chautala may be asked to vacate the assembly seat of Uchana in favour of his grandfather.
A number of serious questions are now raised by the possibility of Mr. Chautala becoming the CM of Haryana. Will the swearing in happen at Tihar? Will the offices of the CM be conducted during his incarceration? Will the Lok Sabha (currently dominated by BJP) allow for such an unprecedented incidence to occur or will the Indian constitution be altered to prevent Mr. Chautala from taking over as CM? We are soon to find out.