Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy has been engaged in a running feud with the Union Territory’s L-G Kiran Bedi over jurisdiction on administrative matters. In the most recent face-off between the two, Narayanasamy and some of his cabinet ministers had spent a cold February night outside Raj Nivas, sleeping on the road, to protest against Bedi’s style of functioning and demand full statehood for the UT.
As the campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections heats up, the demand for statehood has again peaked. Except for the Bharatiya Janata Party, all other parties, including the Congress, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the DMK and Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), have included the statehood demand for the UT in their respective manifestos.
The seat is currently held by R. Radhakrishnan of All India NR Congress (AINRC), a Congress splinter group.
As the lone Lok Sabha seat with nearly nine lakh voters exercise their franchise on April 18, we speak to some of them to know their views on full statehood to Puducherry.
Ranga Prasad, a freelance photographer based in Puducherry, said most people are not aware of statehood or how it will help them. “Politicians are making it an issue just to garner votes and are portraying it as being very important. This is just a point in their manifesto. The people also think it will help them, it seems,” Prasad said.
Puducherry-based artist Mohammed Mustafa had similar thoughts.”We are content with the union territory tag. Politicians are just creating a hype, we don’t have any problem here.”
For voters, the issues that will decide their votes are those concerning development. Saravanan Dhandapani, an IT professional who recently moved with his family to Bengaluru, said: “I have seen Puducherry from my childhood. In the past 25 years, not even a single flyover has been constructed. I have been using the same bus stand that I would in my college days. Nothing has been done in terms of infrastructure.”
He said that even if Puducherry becomes a state, the status will not be a magic wand. “The change will come only when they (the politicians) have the will to change things and bring about development,” the software engineer said.
Some feel even if the southern UT gets statehood, the lack of financial sustenance could be a big hindrance.
Arvind Prebagar, who runs a bakery, said full statehood would mean that the state cannot go to the Centre for funds and that it would have to generate its own revenue. For him, the issue this election is lack of jobs, which, he said, took a hit owing to demonetisation and subsequent Goods and Services Tax. “The only revenue for Puducherry is through liquor and tourism, there are hardly any job opportunities post demonetisation and GST. My father’s bar-cum-restaurant is not doing well since the past two years as there is a dip in liquor business now,” Prebagar said.
“Demonetisation had an adverse effect on tourism which is the main source of revenue for us. By the time we had recovered from demonetisation, GST was implemented,” he added.
Though full statehood means more revenue for the government as it would get a portion of central excise, Customs and income tax duty, but it will also have to spend much more on projects and schemes which is currently taken care of by the central government.
Puducherry’s case is different from Delhi; what SC said
Like his Puducherry counterpart, the Delhi CM has had several run-ins with the Delhi L-G. At the outset, the issues in both the UTs seem similar, but the Delhi LG has comparatively more powers than the Puducherry counterpart. Both Delhi and Puducherry have legislative assemblies but do not enjoy the powers of a full state.
The Supreme Court had last year clarified that Puducherry cannot be compared with Delhi as the southern UT was covered under Article 239A which gives the discretion to Parliament to create a Council of Ministers which may perform the functions of a legislature. This means that Puducherry has the power to legislate on all subjects including law and order and land. However, this is not the case in Delhi as the Centre has the power to do so.
Alternative to statehood
Various Puducherry ministers have suggested special category status (SCS) for Puducherry under which the Centre pays 90 per cent of the funds in a centrally sponsored scheme as against 60 per cent, while the remaining funds are provided by the state governments.
The UT had applied for SCS when the Congress was in the centre, but the demand was refused as it failed to meet the criteria.
Till now, 11 Indian states have been accorded SCS, namely Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland.
Key contenders for Puducherry constituency
It will largely be a three-cornered battle for Puducherry’s lone Lok Sabha seat between the Congress, AIADMK-AINRC and the MNM. The Congress which has won nine out of the 13 Lok Sabha elections has fielded two-time Chief Minister V. Vaithilingam as its candidate while the Congress splinter group All India NR Congress (AINRC) and AIADMK party had entered into a pre-poll pact. AINRC-AIADMK alliance has a doctor, K Narayanasamy, as its candidate. While MNM has fielded veteran politician and allopath M.A.S. Subramanian, TTV Dhinakaran-led Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) has fielded candidate N Tamilmaran.