Puducherry still has no Ministers other than the Chief Minister one month after the Assembly election as the BJP and the AINRC stay firm on their demands

Published : June 01, 2021 20:31 IST

Chief Minister N. Rangasamy returns home after recovering from coronavirus at a private hospital in Chennai, on May 18. Photo: SAMRAJ M.

It has been a month since National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won the Puducherry Assembly election, but there is no sign of a new government yet apparently because of a power struggle between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ally, the All India NR-Congress (AINRC). Meanwhile, COVID-19 deaths are at an all-time high in Puducherry. In the last five days (May 27- May 31), over a 100 persons had died of COVID, while the May 18-31 fortnight recorded an additional 18,501 cases.

Caught in the middle of an unlikely storm, Lieutenant-Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan, who spends a disproportionate amount of time in Puducherry ever since she was given additional charge of the Union Territory, has not been able to persuade the AINRC or the BJP to reach an understanding so that the new government can effectively confront the COVID challenge. Tamilisai Soundararajan is Governor of Telangana and was given charge of Puducherry after the sacking of the then L-G, Kiran Bedi, just a month ahead of the Assembly election.

The Puducherry government can have a maximum of seven Ministers. The AINRC has made it clear that it needs five of these berths, including that of Chief Minister, and the post of Speaker. On its part, the BJP has gone to media in the past few days and has alleged that Chief Minister Rangasamy was not keeping his word on the pact. It has also said that Rangasamy was unwilling to even talk to BJP leaders.

According to the BJP, the pact was that the BJP would take a lion’s share of the Cabinet berths and also the post of Speaker, sparing the remaining three ministerial berths (including that of the Chief Minister) for Rangasamy. The post of deputy Speaker was also to be given to the AINRC. The BJP’s other demand was the creation of the post of deputy Chief Minister, another sore point, which does not have the backing of the AINRC.

AINRC leaders dispute that such a deal was ever reached, given the fact that the Chief Minister was averse to the creation of the post of deputy Chief Minister. In the view of one leader, the AINRC giving the BJP four berths was akin to dissolving the AINRC and all its leaders joining the BJP en masse. The leader pointed out that without the AINRC, the BJP could not have won the six seats it did. In the 2016 Assembly election, 29 of the 30 BJP candidates, forfeited their deposits.

The BJP has utilised the time since May 2 to “encourage” independent MLAs to join the party. The operation is similar to what it did in January/February 2021 to bring down the Congress government in Puducherry. So far, as many as three of the six independent MLAs have agreed to support the BJP. The party also took the parliamentary backdoor to appoint three of its members as nominated MLAs, taking the number of BJP MLAs in the Assembly to 12. Nominated MLAs have all the rights of an elected MLA in Puducherry, making a mockery the election process in the UT.

The results of the election were announced on May 2, and the NDA alliance comprising the BJP, the AINRC and the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) won 16 seats. While the AINRC won 10 seats and the BJP won six. The AIADMK, for the first time since it began contesting elections in the Union Territory, drew a blank.

Although the BJP was reluctant to announce the AINRC founder N. Rangasamy as the Chief Minister candidate ahead of the election, post-poll negotiations resulted in the AINRC being given the chief ministership. Following this understanding, the Lieutenant-Governor invited Rangasamy to form the government, and he was sworn in on May 7.

Ever since a tug-of-war ensued, with the BJP bearing down on the AINRC on the issue of ministerial berths. This led to a delay of about 20 days for the MLAs to take their oath in the Assembly. The new tussle now is on the election of the Speaker. With the AINRC holding out for a month, and the BJP showing no signs of climbing down, formation of a government looks some distance away.

One local politician, who did not want to be named, said the BJP was earning a bad name because this was the first time in the history of the UT that a government had not been functional in over a month since an election took place. He said that though the AINRC was equally responsible for the current problems, a larger share of blame was with the BJP, which has been intransigent in its demands.