CHANDUGARH: Assembly elections may not have anything to do with jails but the run-up to the Oct 15 polls in Haryana is a tad different. Whether one likes it or not, "jail" is one word that is synonymous with every speech top leaders are making these days.
The issue is in the context of former chief minister and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Om Prakash Chautala serving a 10-year jail term after being convicted in a teachers' recruitment scam last year.
While other parties and leaders have targeted the INLD, which Chautala heads, over his jail term, Chautala himself has used the jail issue for political benefit.
"I have been in jailed because I gave jobs to people. The INLD will win this election and I will take oath as chief minister inside (Delhi's) Tihar Jail," Chautala, who was on bail recently on health grounds and violated bail conditions to address political rallies, had been telling people at his rallies.
On Friday, the Delhi High Court cancelled Chautala's bail and ordered him to surrender to the Tihar Jail authorities on Saturday, which he did.
Chautala's rant forced Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda on the defensive. Hooda, in his political rallies, had to explain to the people that Chautala was misleading them on the jail issue.
"He has not been sent to jail for giving jobs. He is lying. He has been convicted and sent to jail for large-scale irregularities and corruption in giving jobs," Hooda was heard saying at his rallies.
Chautala's rallies in recent days had left the two bigger parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politically unnerved. Chautala was drawing big crowds in the past fortnight.
"Chautala has been telling people that he will take oath as chief minister inside the jail. Let him have his cabinet also in jail. If that happens, people will have to commit crimes and go to jail to get their work done from the government in jail," Hooda said.
While political leaders from the state are throwing barbs at each other over the jail issue, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have made a mention of it in good measure.
"The BJP will form the government on its own this time. We do not want the support of people in jail. These leaders are trying to create an impression that they (INLD) supports the BJP government at the centre," Modi said, while addressing rallies across Haryana.
Chautala is not the only politician whose name is associated with jail these days. Former minister Gopal Kanda, an accused in the alleged rape and abetment to suicide of a flight attendant, too is currently on bail and actively campaigning for his new Haryana Lokhit Party (HLP).
The Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) has said that 94 out of 1,351 contesting candidates have declared criminal cases against them. More than half of these even have charges framed against them in various courts.