Om Prakash Chautala and son's 10-year imprisonment is landmark sentencing
Despite tremendous pressure by supporters and back-channel political wrangling, a CBI court in Delhi's Rohini area has sentenced 78-year-old Om Prakash Chautala, a five-time former Haryana chief minister, and his 51-year-old son Ajay Chautala, to 10 years of imprisonment as they were found guilty of corruption in a state teachers' recruitment scam. The sentencing is the most harsh punishment ever given to any big-time political figure not only in India but also across the world.
Om Prakash Chautala is the President of Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), a family party formed in 1987, and his son Ajay is the party's Secretary General. The party has never done well in Lok Sabha elections though at one time it was in alliance with the BJP-led NDA. INLD was gearing up for General Elections in 2014 but now, in the best case scenario, the party and the Chautalas will be kept busy in fighting court cases apart from facing the ire of his political supporters.
If the conviction by the CBI court is not struck down by a higher court, then the Representation of the People Act will come into effect. As per the act, if an individual is convicted for any offense and is sentenced to more than two years of imprisonment, he or she will be disqualified from the date of conviction to contest assembly elections, and remain disqualified for a further six years after release from prison.
In combination, the jail term and its consequent effect on political fortune of INLD, the court verdict and sentencing is a strong message that if the state machinery is manipulated by a politician to subvert it for personal gain, its result will be severe punishment with irreversible damage to political future.
One hopes that the bureaucracy in Haryana
and the country will also take note as among with 55 persons convicted today by the Delhi
higher court, there are many senior IAS officers and state-level functionaries.
Though INLD's supporters vented their anger before the court verdict was due, the police rightly rammed them away with tear gas and lathi charge. In the highly charged socio-political environment we are living in today, Chautala and his party will not find a single neutral supporter to campaign for his release - irrespective of caste and creed.
Om Prakash Chautala has been escaping the law for the last several decades. His father Devi Lal disowned him in 1977 when Chautala was caught at the Delhi airport while smuggling watches worth Rs. one lakh. In 1990, he allegedly shielded senior police officer SPS Rathore in the Girotra molestation case in which the girl later committed suicide.
The apple, it seems has not fallen far from the tree, as Abhay Chautala was controversially elected as Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and Indian Boxing Federation (IBF) president but his election led to India
being suspended from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) - as a result Indian boxers have also been banned from participating in international boxing events. Ajay Chautala, Om Prakash's other son, is currently dealing with charges of disproportionate assets.