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Chautala in jail, poll days over

New Delhi, Jan. 16: A CBI court today convicted former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala and his legislator son Ajay for illegal recruitment of thousands of schoolteachers and sent them to jail, automatically disqualifying the 78-year-old from contesting elections for six years.

Ajay will, however, get three months to appeal as a sitting MLA and can even fight the state polls, due in 2014, if a higher court stays his conviction.

Chautala’s younger son Abhay said his father, who heads the opposition INLD, and brother would appeal the order, the first such in the country when a father-son politician pair had been sent to jail for graft.

“We will study the judgment and approach a higher court,” PTI quoted Abhay, who is also an MLA, as saying.

The case goes back to 1999-2000 when 3,206 junior basic trained teachers were recruited by the then INLD-led government. The CBI, which said several crores of rupees had changed hands, had taken up the probe following a directive from the apex court in 2003 after an IAS officer, Sanjeev Kumar, had approached it challenging investigations into the scam by state police.

The court, which had framed charges against Chautala, Ajay and 53 others under penal provisions dealing with criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery, fixed January 22 as the date for pronouncing the sentence. But experts on election rules said the former chief minister stood automatically disqualified from fighting elections for the next six years.

A top Election Commission official said under Section 8(1)(m) of the Representation of People Act, 1951, anyone convicted of corruption or for terror-related offences would be disqualified from contesting polls for six years, even if the sentence was only a fine. “The disqualification takes effect from the date of conviction, irrespective of the sentence,” an election expert said.

The disqualification remains in force whether the person convicted gets released on bail or not.

Ajay, however, gets the three-month breather as the rules say “none of the above mentioned disqualification will take effect” if, on the date of conviction, the person concerned is an MP or member of a state legislature, “till three months have elapsed from that date”.

The apex court had last week sought responses from the Centre and the Election Commission on the constitutional validity of this Section 8(4) as it discriminated between a legislator and a general citizen.

INLD sources said the convictions may come as a personal setback to the family but party leaders see this as a much required trigger to revive the outfit politically. The Chautalas face several corruption cases but this one is linked to giving jobs to people as teachers which the party believes was nothing to be ashamed of.