On a hat-trick

Published : May 05, 2006 00:00 IST

Despite infighting and the rebel threat, the Congress hopes to return to power in Pondicherry.

ALTHOUGH the ruling Congress in the Union Territory of Pondicherry is wracked by faction fights and rebel activities, the party leadership is confident of doing a hat-trick. The optimism is based on the absence of an anti-incumbency factor and the strength of the Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA), built on the Tamil Nadu model with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which it defeated in the last election, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, which it supported in the 2004 parliamentary elections, and the Communist Party of India. Incidentally, this is the first time in 26 years that the Congress has tied up with the DMK for Assembly elections.

Taking on this formidable alliance is the front led by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and including the Puducherry Munnetra Congress (PMC), a breakaway group of the Congress; the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK); and the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI; Viduthalai Siruthaigal in Tamil). At stake are 30 seats - 21 seats in the Pondicherry region, six in Karaikal, two of Mahe and one in Yenam - where elections are to be held in two stages, on May 3 and 8. Both the Congress and the AIADMK are contesting 16 seats each.

Chief Minister N. Rangasamy is contesting the Thattanchavady seat for a third term. Also in the fray are former Chief Ministers V. Vaithilingam of the Congress in Nettapakkam and R.V. Janakiraman of the DMK in Nellithope. Another important contestant is PMC founder-president P. Kannan.

A disturbing factor for the Congress and to some extent the other parties is the presence of rebel candidates. This happened following the merger of some parties, defections, surrender of seats to accommodate new entrants into alliances, denial of seats to sitting members, and the shifting of candidates from one constituency to another. Congress leaders hoped that the rebels would withdraw and ensure that the party presented a united face. A. Gandhi Raj, general secretary of the Pondicherry Pradesh Congress Committee and a former Minister, was confident of a DPA win "without any difficulty". Listing the achievements of the Rangasamy government, he told Frontline that education and public health were the two major areas in which it did very well. He made a mention of the Rajiv Gandhi Breakfast Scheme for pupils up to class VIII in schools, in addition to the mid-day meal scheme. "This has attracted more children to schools and the dropout rate has fallen," Gandhi Raj said. Besides, pupils of class XI and XII were given bicycles, footwear and raincoats.

"Thanks to the fast development in various fields in the past few years, the availability of quality health service and the spiritual atmosphere," Gandhi Raj claimed, "a large number of people from neighbouring States had migrated to the Union Territory."

The Opposition parties complained that the benefits of most of the welfare activities of the government had not reached the needy. "Only those close to the ruling party cornered these benefits," said T.G. Ananda Murugesan, secretary of the Maanila Amma Peravai, a front organisation of the AIADMK, and a candidate from Lospet.

Lenin Durai, area secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), faulted the government for not conducting local bodies elections for over 30 years. Because of this, he said, the Union Territory could not get any funds provided by the Centre for panchayats and the local bodies.

Another major issue is the reported move of the Union Health Ministry to convert the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Post-Graduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) into an autonomous institution.

"The proposal has raised protests from various sections of people. CPI (M) leader and convener of the action committee against the proposal, T. Murugan, said the move would put the health delivery system in the Union Territory out of the reach of the poor and the prestigious institution would be highly politicised.

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