The Delhi high court on Friday cut short INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala’s campaign for the Haryana election and ordered him back to the high-security Tihar jail, where he is serving a 10-year term in a teacher recruitment scandal.
The court asked the former Haryana chief minister to surrender by Saturday and was critical of him for violating bail conditions — granted on plea of ill-health — by campaigning extensively for the October 15 election.
“You (Chautala) cannot take the court for a ride and cannot be permitted to question the majesty, dignity and decorum of this court,” justice Siddharth Mridul said. The court had on a number of occasions extended the bail first granted in May 2013.
With three days to go for the voting, it remains to be seen if the order will have a bearing on the fortunes of the Indian National Lok Dal, eyeing a comeback in the northern state.
The party has been counting on Chautala, its senior-most leader, to take on an aggressive BJP and capitalise on the anti-incumbency faced by the ruling Congress.
But, Chautala in jail may also translate into sympathy votes for the INLD that has considerable influence over Jat voters, expected to influence the outcome in at least 25 of the 90 assembly seats.
In fact, the INLD accused the BJP of misusing the CBI to keep Chautala away from people.
His battery of lawyers, led by Ram Jethmalani, tried to convince the court to allow the 79-year-old to stay out of jail till Monday. But the court refused relief. “Let him surrender tomorrow. Let’s not bargain over this,” it said.
In an earlier hearing, the court had set October 17 as the date for surrender. In a plea filed Thursday, the CBI said Chautala be asked to return to jail immediately as he was busy holding poll rallies in violation of bail conditions.
Chautala, his son Ajay and eight others were sentenced to 10-year jail term on January 2013 for illegally recruiting 3,206 junior teachers. The former CM has challenged the judgment in the high court and a verdict is awaited.
Earlier in the day, Chautala appeared before a special CBI judge in a 2006 disproportionate assets case, which will now come up for hearing on October 30.
(With inputs from Avantika Mehta, Kumar Uttam)