Is BJP holding up oath-taking of MLAs in Puducherry to press its demand for plum portfolios?

Published : May 19, 2021 14:37 IST

Puducherry NR Congress leader N. Rangasamy with Lt Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan after he was sworn in as Puducherry Chief Minister, on May 7 Photo: PTI

The political tug of war between the NR-Congress and the BJP has been going on when the COVID-19 cases are at an all-time high in the Union Territory.

More than a fortnight after people elected MLAs to the Puducherry Assembly, and 12 days after NR-Congress party president N. Rangasamy, was sworn in as Chief Minister, Lieutenant-Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan has not found it convenient to have the MLAs take their oath of office in the Assembly.

The results of the election to 30 Assembly seats in Puducherry were announced on May 2, also the day of counting. The NR-Congress, which was part of the National Democratic Alliance, won 10 seats. The BJP and the DMK won 6 seats each, while the Congress won two. Independents won six seats. The AIADMK, for the first time since the formation of the Puducherry Assembly, did not win a seat.

On May 9, just before Rangasamy tested positive for COVID-19, he had sent across a file naming K. Lakshminarayanan, the veteran Congress leader who switched over to the NR-Congress, as the Pro-tem Speaker. According to a source within the government, this file is yet to be signed, 10 days after it was sent to the L-G. If this file is approved, it will facilitate the oath taking of the MLAs.

Rangasamy was sworn in as Chief Minister on May 7. Prime Minister Narendra Modi wished him on Twitter on May 7: “I would like to congratulate Shri N.Rangasamy Ji on taking oath as Puducherry CM. Best wishes for the tenure ahead.” Rangasamy began with affixing his signature on three files that were his election promises: one, provision of free rice to beneficiaries through fair price shops (which was stopped by former L-G Kiran Bedi), two, adding 10,000 more people to the old age/widow pension scheme and, three, giving education assistance for a certain category of students who qualify for professional courses.

Although Rangasamy reached Puducherry on May 17 from Chennai – where he was hospitalised since May 9 – there is no forward movement on the MLAs’ oath-taking. Rangasamy has told his supporters and others not to visit him at his residence because he was in “self-quarantine”.

Rangasamy’s supporters are unhappy with the fact that the BJP went behind the Chief Minister’s back and nominated three of its representatives to the Assembly, under the bizarre provision that three MLAs can be nominated. It was a day after Rangasamy was hospitalised that the Union Home Ministry issued the notification, on May 10, nominating K. Venkatesan, V.P. Ramalingam and R.B. Ashok Babu as MLAs. Venkatesan is a former DMK MLA who resigned to ensure that the Congress government lost its majority in February 2021. Ramalingam is the brother of former Speaker V.P. Sivakozhundu. The Speaker had reduced any space for the Congress to manoeuvre ahead of the confidence vote then, and, later, announced that the government had lost its majority. Babu is a Puducherry BJP leader. Nominated MLAs can vote in the Assembly.

Apart from this, the BJP had also approached all independent candidates. Three of the six independents are now with the BJP, pushing up the BJP’s tally in the 33-member Assembly to 12, two more than the NR-Congress’.

From May 2, the BJP has been pushing for the post of Deputy Chief Minister. Rangasamy had made it clear that there was no precedence for this and he was not aware if there was a provision for such as post. If the Central government desired so, a post could be created, he said. The other post that the BJP has its eye on is that of the Assembly Speaker. Rangasamy was unlikely to concede the post after he witnessed the manner in which the Congress government was brought down just a few months ago.

With 33 MLAs, the Union Territory can, at a maximum, have seven Ministers. The BJP is insisting on some plum portfolios. The delay in clearing the file nominating the pro-tem Speaker is because the BJP wants negotiations on the portfolios to be completed before the MLAs take the oath of office, one source said.

The political tug of war between the NR-Congress and the BJP has been going on when the COVID-19 cases are at an all-time high in the Union Territory. As of May 18, nearly 20 per cent (17, 477) are active cases and as many as 1,212 persons have died. The seriousness of the problem can be gauged from the fact that on March 25, the total number of new cases reported was 95 (no deaths). On May 18, the new cases stood at 1,797, and the number dead in a single day was 33.

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