A Delhi court on Tuesday sent former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala and his MLA son Ajay Chautala to 10 years in jail in a case of illegal recruitment of teachers — the first time a senior politician has been handed down such a severe punishment for graft.
It is not just the quantum of punishment that comes as a blow to the Chautalas, but also what it means to their political careers.
The sentence virtually marks the end of the road for the 78-year-old five-time Haryana CM and his 51-year-old son — perhaps the reason their supporters resorted to stone-pelting and slogan-shouting at the Rohini courts complex on hearing of the sentence.
Haryana is due for polls in 2014 and Tuesday's sentence rules the two out of the electoral race for 16 years. According to the Representation of People Act, a person convicted of any offence and sentenced to more than two years' imprisonment is disqualified from the date of conviction and continues to be so for a further six years after his release.
But the Chautalas can continue as MLAs till the disposal of their appeal, if they challenge the verdict within three months.
Two IAS officers — Sanjiv Kumar, the then director of primary education, and former CM’s officer on special duty Vidya Dhar — and six others were also given 10 years’ jail for illegally appointing more than 3,206 junior basic teachers in Haryana in 1999-2000 when the Indian National Lok Dal was in power and Chautala senior was the chief minister.
Chautala pressured Kumar to change the list of candidates by fudging the marks of some. Later, Kumar went to Supreme Court and submitted the original list.
"…considering the enormity of the offences and the manner in which politician-bureaucrat nexus has resulted in depriving such a large number of candidates of their constitutional rights, I do not find any reason for leniency in sentencing those convicts who were master-minding the entire conspiracy or assisting them," special CBI judge Vinod Kumar said.
The court also asked the CBI to probe the selection of secondary school teachers during the same period.
Naming Chautala senior as the main conspirator, the court on January 16 convicted the father-son duo and 53 others of corruption and cheating.
Like many regional outfits, the INLD is also run and controlled by a family, the Chautala clan -- OP Chautala, Ajay and Abhay. With the chief and his deputy in jail, the party is staring at an uncertain future.