The Congress-led government in Puducherry appeared to have lost majority on Tuesday after a second MLA of the party resigned in two days.
Late in the evening, the Centre removed the Lieutenant Governor (L-G) of the Union Territory, Kiran Bedi, with whom the government has had a long-running battle. Telangana Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan, a former president of the Tamil Nadu BJP, was given additional charge of Puducherry.
The ruling Congress-DMK alliance and the opposition AIADMK-BJP alliance now have 14 MLAs each in the House that has a current effective strength of 28. While the Opposition demanded the government’s resignation on Tuesday, Chief Minister V Narayanasamy said he retained majority support.
The 33-member Puducherry Assembly includes three nominated MLAs. Of its current active strength of 28, the Congress has 10 MLAs and the DMK three, and the ruling coalition is supported by an Independent.
The Opposition’s 14 are made up of seven MLAs of the N R Congress, four of the AIADMK, and three nominated MLAs of the BJP.
MLA A John Kumar tendered his resignation to Speaker V P Sivakolunthu on Tuesday morning. On Monday, former Health Minister Malladi Krishna Rao, who had resigned from the Cabinet earlier, had posted his resignation on Twitter.
After a meeting of the members of the ruling coalition on Tuesday, the Chief Minister, however, declared there was no need for him to resign.
“We came to know about Kumar’s resignation today, but our alliance still has majority. We are united. The Opposition’s charges are unjust, they should realise their weakness. I repeat that our alliance remains strong. We will go ahead with this government as per law,” he said.
Kumar recently met with BJP leaders in New Delhi. The Congress has now lost four MLAs, including two ministers. Two of those who have left – former Minister A Namassivayam and MLA E Theeppainthan – have joined the BJP, and Kumar could follow.
Former Minister Rao has said he may retire from political life. Another Congress MLA, N Dhanavelu, was disqualified earlier over allegations of anti-party activities.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Chief Minister Narayanasamy said “not four, only three people” had quit. “The fourth person has given his resignation (but) it has not been accepted by the Speaker. We are trying to persuade him (the MLA). We have got the majority. We will function according to the Constitution.”
The removal of L-G Bedi, the Chief Minister said, was “a long pending demand of the Puducherry people”. Bedi, he said, “was behaving in an autocratic manner, violating the rules of business, trying to run a parallel government, (and) issuing independent orders against the wishes of the elected government…”.
The Centre, he said, had “woken up now”, with only weeks to go before Assembly elections. “I do not know whether it was done because of elections. (But) whatever damage has to be done, she has done. It cannot be rectified. The people of Puducherry will remember it and it will be fresh in their memory,” Narayanasamy said.
The resignation of Kumar came a day ahead of Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Puducherry, scheduled for Wednesday. Former Minister Namassivayam had left during Rahul’s last visit to Tamil Nadu on January 25.
While the Congress would like to portray itself as a victim, a section of leaders in the DMK had earlier demanded that Narayanasamy should resign and face elections, protesting the Centre’s interference in the government through L-G Bedi.
“We asked him formally and informally to step down and face elections as everyone knew this was coming. Nobody could have prevented it; neither DMK nor Congress, or even both together can match the BJP’s resources. But Narayanasamy failed to take that decision because the permission of the Congress high command was required. The DMK leadership in Chennai too was not in favour of facing early elections,” a senior DMK leader said.
Speaking before Bedi was removed, N Rangasamy, former Chief Minister of Puducherry and head of the opposition All India N R Congress, had said they would meet the L-G soon to demand that the government be ousted. “This government has become so unpopular. Narayanasamy does not admit his mistakes and blames other parties for all that he does,” Rangasamy said.
Kumar, who resigned on Tuesday, was considered to be close to the CM. He had won the 2016 Assembly polls from Nellithope constituency, and vacated the seat for Narayanasamy. He won the Kamaraj Nagar byelection in 2019.
“Kumar had demanded that the Congress give him both Nellithope and Kamaraj Nagar in the upcoming polls, for himself and an immediate family member to contest. After the Congress refused to make a commitment, his last message to the party was that he would be going to a party that promised him both seats,” said a senior Congress leader who was in the loop of communication between Kumar and Narayanasamy.
Another Congress leader said Rahul should have visited sooner. “He was briefed about all these troubles. He hoped that he would be able to manage them on his visit on Wednesday, meeting all unhappy, vulnerable leaders such as Kumar. But it looks like it is too late,” the leader said.