Infighting in the BJP and the party's differences with AINRC over deputy chief ministership holding up government formation in Puducherry

Published : June 19, 2021 14:39 IST

John Kumar (right) resigning as Congress MLA in Puducherry in February. He is now an MLA of the BJP and is demanding a ministership, which the party is not keen on giving.

Differences within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over who among its MLAs should be made Ministers came out in the open, with one group of supporters laying siege to the party headquarters on June 19, much to the embarrassment of the party. They shouted slogans against the BJP and sought justice for John Kumar, the party’s MLA who was in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam until 2016 and then in the Congress, until 2021.

The group owing allegiance to John Kumar claimed that he was promised a Minister’s post when he switched loyalties from the Congress in February, ensuring the fall of the Congress government. John Kumar, who is now camping in Delhi along with three MLAs supporting him, told a Tamil news channel that he would speak to the BJP’s central leadership on the issue.

As a result of the infighting within the BJP, more than six weeks after the people of Puducherry voted for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to form a government, the alliance partners, the All India NR Congress (AINRC) and the BJP, have not managed to appoint Ministers and take charge of the administration.

Although the two sides agree ‘in principle’ on the number of Ministers from the BJP (two), differences persist on the issue of Deputy Chief Ministership being granted to A. Namassivayam, a former Congress PCC leader who is now in the BJP. Namassivayam, who was No.2 in the last Congress government, is expected to remain No. 2 in the current set up. As of now, he is likely to hold the same portfolios he held in the last regime.

There is a view in the BJP that of the two ministerships given to the BJP, at least one should be held by a “true” BJP person. Political observers say this position has been put forward in order to enable a nominated MLA to become a Minister, which will be a dubious first for the Union Territory. John Kumar is opposed to this, and has made it clear that he wants that slot. John Kumar and his son Vivian Richards are the first father-son combination in the Puducherry Assembly. The Assembly has 33 MLAs, including three nominated ones.

The Puducherry Assembly election results were announced on May 2. N. Rangasamy, AINRC founder, took charge as Chief Minister on May 7 after a tussle with the BJP leadership.

After long-drawn-out negotiations, BJP leader Embalam R. Selvam, announced on his Twitter handle on June 2: “N.R. Congress has shared Speaker & 2 Ministry for BJP in Puducherry Assembly. Official announcement will be made by BJP India. The alliance among @AINRC & @BJP4Puducherry is strong and good.” He tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP president J.P. Nadda, Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Arjun Ram Meghwal, Member of Parliament Rajeev Chandrasekhar, and BJP general secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu C.T. Ravi, in the message.

Sixteen days later, nothing much has happened, barring the election of Selvam as the Speaker of the Assembly. He submitted his nomination on June 14, in the presence of BJP and AINRC leaders, including N. Rangasamy. The next day, the Assembly met and elected him Speaker unanimously. Among those who greeted him on social media on his election were Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, BJP national general secretaries B.L. Santhosh, Dushyant Kumar Gautam, Tarun Chugh and Sunil Deodhar – perhaps an indicator of the importance the BJP attaches to the Union Territory.

Even as both the political parties sparred, the COVID wave peaked and then declined, with no government in place, and the Lieutenant Governor-in-charge, Tamilisai Soundararajan, shuttling between Telangana, where she is Governor, and Puducherry. Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan, a former head of the BJP in Tamil Nadu, was specifically chosen for the job as ‘in charge’ of Puducherry in February 2021, after the sacking of the then L-G, Kiran Bedi.

The fatality rate of the infection in Puducherry is 1.5 per cent, which is slightly higher than the national average. The death toll so far has been 1,714.