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What next in Puducherry?

Last updated on: February 24, 2021 15:43 IST

Will acting LG Soundararajan invite N Rangaswamy to form a government or recommend President's rule, so close to the assembly election, asks N Sathiya Moorthy.

IMAGE: V Narayanasamy hands over his resignation as chief minister of Puducherry to acting Lieutenant Governor Tamizhisai Soundararajan, February 22, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

The exit of the Congress-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam coalition government in the Union territory of Puducherry was being anticipated for long. And when the fall came, it owed to the abrasiveness of Congress Chief Minister V Narayanasamy for most part, and the continued indifference of the party high command for many years.

As social media put it, Narayanaswamy humiliated fellow Congress chief minister P Shanmugam, considered the 'Bhishma Pithamah' of Union territory politics, by ensuring that no party MLA stepped down for the former to win an assembly seat within six months of assuming office.

Today, the very same Narayanasamy had to bow out because he did not have enough MLAs to support him.

Narayanasamy is the sixth chief minister to lose office since Puducherry, then Pondicherry, a French colony, merged with the Union of India. His exit has now meant that the Congress does not have a single chief minister in south India, where the party had maintained a massive lead in the post-Emergency parliamentary polls of 1977 when the rest of India had rejected the party

The ball is now in Tamizhisai Soundararajan's court, after the Centre sacked Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi unceremoniously and overnight and made the governor of Telangana the acting lieutenant governor.

Congress leaders say this was akin to Indira Gandhi's days, when she had her own party nominees sacked or transferred as governors, even as she got her own chosen party chief ministers, too, out. According to them, the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were now entering this phase.

Much mystery remains over Bedi's unceremonious exit. For now, it is attributed to her own abrasiveness in the name of holding the Narayanasamy government accountable. The media has it that even the local BJP unit had complained to the central leadership over how she was making the party unpopular ahead of the assembly polls.

The question is if Soundararajan would invite the Opposition combine's former chief minister, N Rangaswamy, to form a government or recommend President's rule, so close to the assembly election.

Flowing from this question is the possibility of the Election Commission postponing the election in Puducherry by six months, as empowered under the Constitution, or going ahead with it, along with those in neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Kerala, due by this May.

There is truth in Narayanaswami's claims that the BJP engineered defections from his party and government. But the ruling party at the Centre seemed to have chosen a more appropriate candidate than in Congress-ruled Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. It also executed the project with relatively greater finesse though none in Puducherry will believe if the BJP were to claim that they were not behind it all.

The BJP seems to hope that with Kiran Bedi out, the Congress party and Narayanaswamy may have lost their only election issue.

The other camp, however, seems to feel that destabilising a duly elected government, that too only months ahead of the assembly poll, was an issue in itself, and could resonate even better with the voters.

Both are equally debatable points. However, given the political composition in Puducherry, and the fact that electoral politics in Puducherry is much different from that in neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

For instance, Tamil Nadu has seldom suffered political instability. It used to be common in the Union territory, until not very long ago. Hence, the issue could rankle in the voter's minds.

The DMK ally of the Congress has since indicated that it would face the coming election together. In a way, the DMK should share some of the blame for the air of instability in Puducherry. Over a month ago, the party named Tamil Nadu Lok Sabha member and former Union minister S Jagathrakshakan as the election in charge in Pondicherry.

The Constitution does not provide for Jagath, who has voting rights in Tamil Nadu's Arakkonam Lok Sabha constituency. When he was named the DMK poll in-charge in Puducherry, a mischievous social media campaign claimed that he wanted to become chief minister. The confusion was caused by the DMK naming him for a Puducherry party post in a routine, matter-of-fact manner, without any accompanying explanation.

The ruling AIADMK in Tami Nadu is reserving its comments on l'affaire Puducherry for most part. Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar, who has emerged as the spokesperson for Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami's camp, has said that what happened in Pondy would happen to the DMK-Congress combine in the state too, come the May polls.

But the AIADMK will have a problem of its own. Can it afford to promote N Rangaswamy as the chief minister in Puducherry, with the possibility of him joining the BJP post-poll, in case he came to power? Rangaswamy's NR Congress remains the only ruling party in the country to be named after a living person.

Traditional BJP leaders in Puducherry have their own problems with the likes of Rangaswamy being posited high in the party, given the traditional ideological differences over the past decades -- and also their own wait and work going waste at a more personal level, as across the party units in all other states across the country, including neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is Distinguished Fellow and Head-Chennai Initiative, Observer Research Foundation.