Trav­esty of Ti­har Jail Term

The In­dian Na­tional Lok Dal pa­tri­arch Om Prakash Chau­tala has spent nearly half his 10-year jail term in hos­pi­tal or on pa­role, busy run­ning his party like al­ways

The Day After - - CONTENTS - By DAnFEs

Peo­ple go to jail and their life comes to a stand­still. But not if you are Om Prakash Chau­tala, for­mer chief min­is­ter of Haryana and son of the late Devi Lal, for­mer deputy prime min­is­ter of In­dia, and ar­guably Haryana’s tallest Jat leader af­ter Sir Ch­hotu Ram.

In 2013, Chau­tala and his son Ajay Singh were among 55 peo­ple con­victed by a trial court in a cor­rup­tion case, with the Chau­ta­las get­ting 10-year jail terms. But Chau­tala se­nior has since spent as much time out of Delhi’s Ti­har Jail as in­side, and his grip over the fam­ily-run po­lit­i­cal en­ter­prise, the In­dian Na­tional Lok Dal, has re­mained vice-like.

Like al­most all other politi­cians, Chau­tala seemed to de­velop se­ri­ous ail­ments as soon as he was sent to jail, and has spent long, com­fort­able stints in five-star hospi­tals. He has also found time to pass class XII, and at­tend the mar­riage of at least one grand­son.

MOCOERY OF JAIL TERM

Be­tween 19 Jan­uary 2013 and 6 Fe­bru­ary 2017, Chau­tala was out of jail and at one hos­pi­tal or the other for a to­tal of 523 days.

Last year, the Delhi gov­ern­ment went to court, seek­ing a re­call of the or­der of the DG, Pris­ons, grant­ing three-week pa­role to Chau­tala, on the grounds that while he had been granted pa­role for health rea­sons, he was busy at­tend­ing po­lit­i­cal meet­ings.

At a hear­ing in the Delhi High Court, the state’s coun­sel Rahul Mehra told the court: “If the pe­riod of 76 days dur­ing which the pe­ti­tioner had been on pa­role were to be in­cluded, the same would add up to 599 days out of the ap­prox­i­mately 1190 days from the date of his con­vic­tion.”

Chau­tala had sought to be re­leased on pa­role on the strange grounds “for self treat­ment as the ap­pli­cant is suf­fer­ing dif­fer­ent types of old age de­ceases (sic) since long time”.

How­ever, his ap­pli­ca­tion was re­jected af­ter an ad­verse CBI re­port, which stated that while he had ear­lier been granted bail, he had mis­used it by “at­tend­ing pub­lic meet­ings in var­i­ous districts of Haryana”. Chau­tala’s in­terim bail was can­celled for the same rea­son in 2014.

This finds men­tion in the sting­ing or­der passed by Jus­tice Vipin Sanghi of the Delhi High Court on 1 March last year.

PO­LIT­I­CAL IN­VOLVE­MENT

It doesn’t mat­ter whether he’s been in­side Ti­har Jail or out­side it, Chau­tala has con­tin­ued to be in­volved in vir­tu­ally ev­ery po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion, big or small, that his party has made since 2013. He has per­son­i­fied the cliché that he doesn’t need to go to the party. The party comes to him.

In June-July 2013, Chau­tala was re­cov­er­ing at Gur­gaon’s Medanta hos­pi­tal af­ter heart surgery. Lead­ers of al­most ev­ery party paid him a visit — af­ter all, in the Jat-dom­i­nated pol­i­tics of Haryana, one can never af­ford to dis­count the Chau­tala clan.

While he was sup­pos­edly lan­guish­ing in jail, the INLD for­mal­ized an al­liance with

Mayawati’s Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party for the 2019 Lok Sabha elec­tions. Last month, he even ad­dressed a rally at Go­hana near Sonepat, where he made the grand an­nounce­ment that Mayawati would be In­dia’s next prime min­is­ter.

In­ci­den­tally, it was the same rally where party work­ers owing al­le­giance to Ajay Singh Chau­tala and his son Dushyant, the INLD MP from Hisar, raised slo­gans against Ajay’s brother and the party’s act­ing pres­i­dent Ab­hay Chau­tala.

This re­sulted in the even­tual ex­pul­sion of Dushyant and his younger brother Digvi­jay from the party — with the de­ci­sion taken by the pa­tri­arch him­self. No­body, not even his own flesh and blood, could take him on and hope to get away with it.

Like sev­eral pre­vi­ous in­stances, pun­ish­ment for Ajay and his fam­ily has been swift. For a man once ac­cepted as the heir ap­par­ent to the Chau­tala legacy, Ajay and his fam­ily are now forced to fight for a piece of the pie, hav­ing been po­lit­i­cally os­tra­cized by Chau­tala. For those who have ob­served Chau­tala since he be­gan step­ping out of his fa­ther’s loom­ing shadow though, none of this comes as a sur­prise.

SHADES OF DAN­GER

Even if you hap­pen to be Devi Lal’s son, you have to side­line oth­ers who also lay claim to the fam­ily legacy. This Chau­tala did by en­sur­ing that his two broth­ers, Ran­jit and Pratap, were eased out — first from the fam­ily home, and then from the party.

While both es­tranged broth­ers re­mained ac­tive politi­cians, they could never as­sume the man­tle of be­ing Devi Lal’s sons.

Be­fore he was ac­cepted as heir by his fa­ther, Chau­tala did show his colour­ful — some would say dan­ger­ous and al­legedly crim­i­nal— side to the pub­lic. In his ear­lier days, he was even re­ported to have smug­gled watches. But these mi­nor hic­cups didn’t stop his as­cent to power.

On the way came Me­ham, from where he — as the Janata Dal can­di­date — con­tested a by-elec­tion to the Haryana assem­bly in 1990. His sup­port­ers’ at­tempt to al­legedly cap­ture booths was re­sisted, lead­ing to shoot­ing, leav­ing eight vot­ers dead. As chief min­is­ter be­tween 1999 and 2005, Chau­tala ran the gov­ern­ment like a dic­ta­tor — his cab­i­net col­leagues just a mi­nor sideshow in the fam­ily drama. There is an old story of how his sons went af­ter the party MLA from Me­ham, Bal­bir Singh alias Bali Pa­hal­wan, just be­cause he had pub­licly con­tested the chief min­is­ter’s claims about de­vel­op­ment works in his con­stituency.

Of­fi­cers used to be in ter­ror when sum­moned to the chief min­is­ter’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence in Chandigarh — you could never be cer­tain when you would be shown the door.

The Chau­tala of 2018 may be old and in jail, but isn’t ready to cede con­trol of his party yet, even to his el­der son and his fam­ily. And, if he has to use ex­cuses to re­main out of jail — ad­dress­ing ral­lies or hold­ing con­fab­u­la­tions with his trusted party lead­ers — he won’t al­low le­gal niceties to con­fine him to his cell in Ti­har. He will find a way to spend time out of jail.

INLD leader Ab­hay Chau­tala in a press con­fer­ence

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