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Explained: The rise and fall of Om Prakash Chautala, and the cases that haunt him

O P Chautala has been the CM of Haryana five times serving in office for as low as five days to a full-term of five years, including a five-month debut between these two extremes. He has also been a seven-time MLA.

INLD supremo Om Prakash Chautala during a press conference. (Express photo by Jaipal Singh/File)

A Delhi court recently held former Haryana CM and INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala in a disproportionate assets case filed against him in 2005. This is Chautala’s second conviction after he was held guilty in 2013 by the SC in the JBT teachers’ recruitment scam. On Thursday, he appeared in court seeking a lenient sentence citing his age and physical disability. A look at the chequered political career of the leader, and the cases that continue to haunt him.

Political career

O P Chautala has been the CM of Haryana five times serving in office for as low as five days to a full-term of five years, including a five-month debut between these two extremes. He has also been a seven-time MLA.

When his father Devi Lal went to Delhi as deputy PM in the Janata Dal government, it was Om Pakash Chautala who inherited the Chief Minister’s chair on December 2, 1989. He was required to win an election, and contested a bypoll thrice.

The first bypoll was countermanded following allegations of booth capturing. The second one too was cancelled because of the death of Independent candidate Amir Singh. Eventually, it was the third time from Darba Kalan in his home district that Chautala finally won.

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In 1996 when Justice KN Saikia Commission indicted him as an accessory to murder of his political rival Amir Singh, his party was forced to bring in another CM Banarsi Das Gupta. However, Gupta was replaced by Chautala again in around 2 months on July 2, 1990.

But he was forced to quit within five days due to intense pressure from within the party. Hukam Singh took over, but he too had to make way for Chautala eight months later.

This time, Chautala again stayed on as CM from March 2 till April 6, 1991, but his regime was toppled and President’s Rule was imposed. Later in 1999, Chautala, with the BJP behind him, ensured that the Bansi Lal government was brought down. He then completed his next term from July 24, 1999 till March 5, 2005.

Cases against him

When he was caught allegedly involved in smuggling of watches at the Delhi airport, his father Devi Lal announced disowning him. This, of course, was before he picked Chautala to be the state’s CM before moving to Delhi. Even being indicted by an Inquiry Commission as an accessory to murder did not put brakes on his political career. The real jolt came with being convicted in a recruitment scandal. He had to serve 10-year rigorous imprisonment at Tihar jail after he, along with his elder son Ajay Chautala (now national convener of Jannayak Janta Party) and 53 others, was convicted on charges of corruption and criminal conspiracy in appointment of 3,206 JBT teachers. Now, he has again been convicted in the disproportionate assets case.

The current case

On March 26, 2010, the CBI filed the chargesheet against Chautala that said that while working as a public servant (MLA/CM) between May 24, 1993, to May 31, 2006, Chautala had amassed assets to the tune of Rs 6,09,79,026 (Rs. 6.09 crore) which were beyond his known sources of income.

The investigation under the PMLA was initiated by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which has alleged that disproportionate assets generated by the accused while working as a public servant were proceeds of crime and tainted funds which were used in the purchase of properties by the accused. The court also observed that “prima facie material is on record to show that proceeds of crime, generated by the commission of a scheduled offense under Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act were used by accused in the purchase of three properties and prima facie material is on record to show that Rs 95 Lakh was utilised in the construction”.

In 2019, the ED had attached Chautala’s assets worth Rs 3.68 crore that included his flat, a plot and a chunk of land in New Delhi, Panchkula and Sirsa.

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The action was taken under the PMLA. In January 2021, Special Judge Vikas Dhull had framed charges against Chautala, and said: “Charge for the offense under Section 4 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 framed today against the accused in pursuant to order dated 13.01.2021 to which accused pleaded not guilty and claimed trial.”

The recruitment scam

In January 2013, Chautala was held guilty on charges of corruption and criminal conspiracy in the infamous JBT teachers recruitment scam. He was sentenced to seven years of sentence on charges of corruption and 10 years on charges of criminal conspiracy. Besides Chautala, his elder son Ajay Chautala and 53 others were also held guilty in the case. Among the prominent who were convicted were 82-year-old Chautala’s then political adviser Sher Singh Badshami, the then Officer on Special Duty (OSD) Vidya Dhar, IAS, and then Primary Education Director Sanjiv Kumar, besides 50 others.

Last year on July 2, he was released from Tihar jail after he completed his sentence. Ajay Chautala, too, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. He recently completed his sentence and was released from Tihar jail.

INLD after Chautala’s jail

After the former Haryana CM and his elder son were jailed, the party has struggled to wrest power. INLD kept sliding in absence of Om Prakash Chautala. Since he remained in Tihar jail serving a 10-year sentence, Abhay could not keep the party’s flock together.

In the run up to the 2019 polls, a family feud resulted in the birth of an offshoot, the Jannayak Janta Party. JJP won 10 seats in 2019 Assembly polls and emerged as a kingmaker party as the BJP fell short of majority and had to enter into a post-poll alliance with JJP. Dushyant Chautala, Chautala’s grandson and Ajay Chautala’s son, bagged the coveted deputy CM’s post and also got vital portfolios including Excise and Revenue besides several other important departments.

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In 2009, INLD had 31 seats and was the main opposition political party in Haryana. Om Prakash Chautala was the Leader of Opposition in the Vidhan Sabha. The party slipped to 19 seats in 2014 assembly polls while BJP created history in the state by winning 47 seats and forming the government. In that election, the Congress was booted out of power and was left with only 15 seats. Since INLD was the second largest party with 19 MLAs, Abhay Chautala (in absence of Om Prakash Chautala) became the Leader of Opposition.

After the split, INLD slipped further. In the 2019 Assembly polls, INLD lost badly and could retain only one seat – Abhay Chautala – from Ellanabad Assembly constituency.

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