W hen V. Narayanasamy was chosen as the Chief Minister of Puducherry over two-time Chief Minister V. Vaithilingam, and the face of the Congress in the 2016 Assembly election, A. Namassivayam, it raised more than a few eyebrows. But the manner in which he deftly negotiated the minefields laid by Lieutenant Governor (L-G) Kiran Bedi earned him praise both from within the party and outside. He nearly served the five-year term but had to resign after his party lost the majority in the Assembly on February 22, barely four days before the Election Commission announced elections to five States as well as the Union Territory of Puducherry. In an interview to Frontline , he says that despite the hurdles placed by the L-G, his government had managed to do a lot for the people of Puducherry.
You have consistently blamed L-G Kiran Bedi for not being able to deliver on development promises made to the people. What were you able to do for the people in the past five years?
Kiran Bedi worked according to the rules and statutes laid down for the Union Territory for about six months. After that, she kept returning files although she has to work on the advice of the Council of Ministers. Even then, we managed to doggedly pursue each file and each project, and made sure people got benefits out of these. We could have done much more if she had cooperated and worked for the welfare of the people.
The entire responsibility for people not getting fully benefitted is on the Central government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who appointed Kiran Bedi as L-G. On the one hand, I had to deal with the problems created by the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP], and on the other, I had to deal with issues created by Rangasamy [NR-Congress leader].
As for our achievements, we managed to construct five bridges. The morning meal scheme in schools was announced by the Centre only this year. We did it last year itself. For Dalit students, we started a scheme whereby free education is provided from nursery school up to the research level. This has not been done anywhere else. For students of Class 10 and 12, we provided palmtops.
We hiked the financial assistance for pucca houses for Adi Dravida people from Rs.4 lakh to Rs.5 lakh. Our 20-kg free rice scheme was greatly welcomed by the people. The L-G stood in the way and made it cash transfer in lieu of rice. For farmers, we have given free power for pump sets and waived cooperative loans. We also gave a financial grant to farmers which was much higher than that given by the Central government. We have given free crop insurance. So, there are four schemes for farmers alone.
We introduced a free life insurance scheme for all people. If we had been in power, we would have given the COVID vaccine to all people free of charge. We had already set apart money for this. For government employees, we gave full salary during the COVID-19 lockdown period whereas most States had either cut DA [dearness allowance] or the salary itself. All this was done despite the COVID-19 pandemic and while remaining well within our budget allocations.
How and why did MLAs and Ministers leave the party? This is not a sudden development…
Some of them claim that there was no development work. These Ministers had participated in Cabinet meetings. None of them raised it back then. They should have walked out earlier itself. Why did they not? They could have left after two years or three years. Why are they leaving after four years and nine months? They should come up with reasons that people believe.
What, according to you, is the reason for them leaving the party?
The BJP’s plan is to topple [opposition] governments. They did it in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Goa, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. It’s the same strategy. Only in Rajasthan did they fail.
They [the BJP] specialise in going after politicians in opposition ranks, who have some case or the other registered against them. Then they send [a Central agency] such as the ED [Enforcement Directorate], IT [Income tax] or CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation]. Who will not be scared? This is one approach.
The other is to lure [the elected representatives] by offering them money. The plan was that by the time Prime Minister comes [on his scheduled visit to Puducherry] on February 25, Narayanasamy should not be Chief Minister. This was the plan.
What was the role of the nominated MLAs in the Assembly and how did they affect the Congress?
They were nominated without consulting the Cabinet. They did not accept our recommendation for MLAs.
Before 2016, when you assumed office, who had suggested the MLAs to be nominated?
So far, it is the government which suggests the names of who can be made a nominated MLA.
So what happened when you suggested names?
They [the Central government] did not accept. They nominated their people [from the BJP]. Initially, the Speaker did not allow them to participate. Later, we allowed, but we challenged this act of the Central government in the Madras High Court. Later, we went on appeal and the Supreme Court upheld the decision [to nominate the three BJP members as MLAs].
What do you think will be the biggest issue in this Assembly election?
We will take to the people the high-handed manner in which the BJP government has behaved. The people of Puducherry will give a befitting reply to the BJP and its allies.