Resignation of one more Congress MLA, A John Kumar, from Puducherry assembly on Tuesday seems to have pushed the Congress-DMK government below the majority mark in the Union Territory. The ruling coalition and the opposition NR Congress-AIADMK-BJP alliance now have 14 MLAs each in the House that has a current effective strength of 28. The jolt to the Congress came a day ahead of Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Puducherry. Now, the Opposition seeks resignation of the ‘minority’ Congress government.
Are these developments unusual?
The peculiar nature of Puducherry politics and the size of each assembly seat explains what makes it easier for legislators here to shift their loyalties, especially when much more has happened to the ruling AIADMK in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu in the past four years.
On an average, a Puducherry MLA represents about 20,000 to 25,000 voters, which is only as big as an average city corporation ward in India. And the political transactions here are largely ‘personal’ than ‘political,’ with politicians having a significant personal rapport with people in their smaller localities, mostly based on community and caste factors, besides a little politics.
Even if majority of Puducherry population speaks Tamil, and several policies, schemes and areas such as education are influenced by Tamil Nadu, the stake of DMK and AIADMK in Puducherry has also been very limited, as both parties hardly had a special interest in Puducherry affairs. In a tiny Union territory with hardly 30 elected MLA seats, which are scattered across Puducherry (23), Karaikal in Tamil Nadu, Mahe in Kerala and Yanam in Andhra Pradesh, Puducherry has been traditionally a Congress stronghold.
The latest developments in Puducherry were part and parcel of similar strategies BJP had been applying in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, ahead of the upcoming polls. Like in Tamil Nadu, where BJP managed an alliance and a control over the ruling AIADMK alliance within four years time, BJP was the beneficiary in the latest Puducherry crisis too. Two of the four MLAs who resigned from Puducherry Congress have already joined BJP, including a minister. One more MLA, Kumar, is to join soon. And three nominated MLAs in the assembly represent BJP members, thanks to the former Lt. Governor Kiran Bedi who nominated them.
What had shaken the status quo in Puducherry politics was undoubtedly the entry of Bedi as Lt. Governor. Her role was being largely played out in the past four years as a self-styled cop than a Governor. She was often accused of disrupting the governance process carried out by the elected government.
While Bedi did not play a direct role in Congress’s crisis, she can be easily held responsible for making the ruling party leaders “tired” and “irritated” with her “policing.”
When Bedi challenged the powers of elected government and often intervened and interfered in every small matter related to the governance, she is also credited for streamlining the administration and making many government operations transparent, spoiling dreams of an established corrupt political system in power whose main task would be retrieving money they invested to purchase and win seats.
“Bedi made it difficult to retrieve their ‘investments.’ But her actions were often derailing administrative hierarchies, leading to chaos at the top administrative layer. Some of the leaders realised that being part of the Congress or the DMK wouldn’t help them in the long run as the Governor, at least for the next four years, would be controlled by Delhi,” said a senior bureaucrat.
“That is precisely the reason she was removed ahead of polls… Because during a crucial poll season which demands a lot of political maneuvering, Bedi would have played as a tough person for BJP as well,” he added.
Even on a day his government had lost the majority, the news of removing Bedi as governor was a reprieve for CM Narayansamy. He had even called a press conference on Tuesday night to express his happiness. He said Raj Nivas was working as the headquarters of the BJP for the past four and a half years. “It is a victory for the people of the Union Territory,” he said.
Narayansamy had many battles to fight as CM. When Bedi was the stumbling block to implement welfare schemes and basic administrative processes, he knew his party was also getting weaker. Sources close to him said he knew about his leaders being approached by agents with huge offers, about his close aides in the cabinet being forced to hold talks with rivals. But he was never aggressive, neither with Bedi nor in handling problems in the party. Not only that Narayanasamy wasn’t assertive but he was over confident too for his close camaraderie with Gandhi family and M K Stalin, the chief of his prime ally, DMK.
Hours before Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Puducherry on Wednesday, a senior Congress leader said Rahul should have visited them earlier. “His trip today was to instil hope in the minds of all confused leaders. But it was too late. We lost the majority,” he said.
A senior DMK leader blamed Narayansamy for his “cold” approach both in dealing with Bedi and the inner party problems. “He was cool, we weren’t. Knowing this was coming, we suggested to him months ago to resign and face polls to avert this crisis. But he never bothered about threats before him. If he had resigned at a time when Lt. Guv Bedi was wreaking havoc in the government administration, it would have been justified. Neither Narayanasamy nor Congress high command bothered to consider these threats until the last moment,” the DMK leader said.
Narayansamy claimed that his government continues to enjoy the majority. The opposition in Puducherry said they would be meeting the governor soon seeking action if the Congress government refused to step down.
As the future of Congress government, the only government controlled by the Congress party in South India, remains uncertain, multiple sources said either they will manage the majority using the same resources used by BJP to weaken them or they will continue to rule the state until the government is dissolved by Delhi.