Did the centre and LG Kiran Bedi work in tandem to weaken the Puducherry government?

27 February 2021
On 22 February, Velu Narayanasamy, the chief minister of Puducherry, submitted his resignation letter to Tamilisai Soundararajan, the lieutenant governor.
ANI / Hindustan Times
On 22 February, Velu Narayanasamy, the chief minister of Puducherry, submitted his resignation letter to Tamilisai Soundararajan, the lieutenant governor.
ANI / Hindustan Times

On 22 February, Velu Narayanasamy, the chief minister of Puducherry resigned from his post after he lost a trust vote in the assembly. Tamilisai Soundararajan, the current lieutenant governor, had directed Narayanasamy to prove his majority. The union territory will be under President’s rule until the next legislative election, scheduled for 6 April. Narayanasamy’s position in the 33-member assembly was weakened after the central government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, won a landmark case in 2018 allowing it to nominate three BJP members to the house. The ruling Congress-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam alliance was further reduced to a minority after several resignations and defections of the coalition’s members of the legislative assembly.

Through the last five years, Narayanasamy was also having trouble governing the UT after several government orders and assembly resolutions were countermanded by the former lieutenant governor Kiran Bedi, who was removed from her post on 16 February. Bedi had made it difficult for the Congress-DMK combine to introduce social-welfare measures in the UT. Several journalists told me that the recent defections and resignations were largely out of frustration with how Bedi had restricted the functioning of the government rather than any monetary incentives from, or ideological affiliation, to the BJP. Political analysts and journalists also told me that the fall of the Narayanasamy government follows a pattern of the central government disregarding democratic norms in the UT.

The 2016 Puducherry legislative election was a major victory for the Congress-DMK combine, as they won 15 and two seats, respectively. They also gained the support of V Ramachandran, an independent candidate and the representative of Mahe—an exclave of Puducherry surrounded by Kerala. The All India Namathu Rajiyam Congress, or AINRC, headed by former Congress chief minister N Rangasamy, won eight seats and Rangasamy became the leader of opposition. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or AIADMK, won four seats. The BJP did not win a single seat and all its 18 candidates lost their deposits. In May 2019, AINRC lost one of the eight seats to the DMK in a by-poll, taking the total of the Congress-DMK alliance to 18 seats. The opposition had 14 seats, including the three nominated BJP members.

In January 2020, the Puducherry Congress suspended N Dhanavelu, the MLA representing the Bahour constituency, for anti-party activities. Dhanavelu had accused Naryanasamy and Malladi Krishna Rao, the health minister, of corruption. Subsequently, since January 2021, five other Congress MLA’s have resigned or defected. 

On 25 January 2021, Namassivayam, minister of the public-works department, and E Theepanjan, an MLA, resigned and joined the BJP. Namassivayam was the most senior leader of the Congress after Narayanasamy. On 16 February, Rao also resigned from the assembly. “Rao had resigned from his post as health minister out of anger that he wasn’t able to get anything done due to Bedi’s interference,” a journalist, who wished to remain anonymous, told me. “He is also the only leader from Yanam”—an exclave of Puducherry in Andhra Pradesh—“and was unable to help his constituency much in the past five years.” Earlier, on 10 February, Rao had gone with Narayanasamy to meet the president Ramnath Kovind,  and urge him to recall Bedi. In the following weeks, two Congress MLAs—K Lakshminarayanan and A Johnkumar—and one DMK MLA, D Venkatesan, also resigned. This reduced the Congress-DMK alliance to 11 seats while the opposition had 14 seats including the nominated members. 

Abhay Regi  is an assistant editor at The Caravan.

Keywords: Puducherry union territory DMK local governance