Assembly elections: Puducherry

Battle for Puducherry

Print edition : May 27, 2016

Chief Minister N. Rangasamy. Photo: S.S. KUMAR

ALTHOUGH Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry are geographically and linguistically close to each other, they are poles apart in politics. With the Assembly elections round the corner (the elections are normally held on the same day in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry), the distinction has become even more glaring. If the political parties in Tamil Nadu have made prohibition a central issue, those in Puducherry avoid making it an issue. Caste-based politics is also not practised in the Union Territory. However hard the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), which claims to represent the interests of Vanniyars in Tamil Nadu, may try to get a foothold in Puducherry, voters there have cold-shouldered it despite Vanniyars forming the majority of the population.

The Union Territory will witness a multi-cornered contest for the 30 Assembly seats on May 16. The constituencies include Yanam on the Andhra Pradesh coast, Mahe on the Kerala coast, and five constituencies in Karaikal, which is surrounded by Tamil Nadu. The ruling All India N. Rangasamy Congress (AINRC) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) are contesting independently this time. The PMK is contesting in 28 seats. The electoral alliance formed by the Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) for Tamil Nadu has been extended to Puducherry. While the Congress is contesting in 21 constituencies, the DMK has fielded its candidates in nine. Some of the constituents of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK)-led People’s Welfare Front (PWF) alliance of Tamil Nadu are also in the fray—the Communist Party of India (CPI) in eight constituencies, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) in seven, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) in four each. The DMDK will test its fortunes in six constituencies. One seat has been allotted to the Revolutionary Socialist Party of India. The Bharatiya Janata Party is trying its luck as well.

The AIADMK is keen to come to power in order to teach Chief Minister N. Rangasamy a lesson as he kept it out of power in 2011. The AINRC and the AIADMK had contested as allies in that election and agreed to share power if the alliance won at the hustings. The AINRC won 15 of the 17 seats it contested and the AIADMK won five of 10. Their allies, the CPI(M), the CPI and the DMDK, drew a blank. Rangasamy took the help of an independent legislator, V.M.C. Sivakumar, and went on to form the government.

At an election rally in Puducherry on April 25, AIADMK general secretary and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said the AINRC “is worse” than the Congress. “The party which came out of the Congress will only be like that,” she said. (Rangasamy broke away from the Congress in 2011 to form the AINRC.) For Jayalalithaa, if the Congress is “an enemy”, the AINRC is a “traitor”. She said: “Not only did Rangasamy bury coalition dharma but he has pushed Puducherry into the quicksands. Puducherry saw no development during his rule. The law and order situation became laughable.”

Rangasamy, who began his campaign on May 4, retorted that the Tamil Nadu government had not responded to Puducherry’s request for land to expand its airport. “Puducherry can prosper only if it gets the required land. But the intention of Jayalalithaa is otherwise. People can make their own conclusions as to who is a traitor,” he said.

There appears to be general dissatisfaction with the performance of the Rangasamy government. Traders and businessmen said they were unhappy with the government’s decisions to increase the excise duty on liquor and the value-added tax. Industries left the Union Territory because tax holidays had come to an end, leading to loss of jobs. “No development has taken place here. Rangasamy says he will encourage only pollution-free and non-water-consuming industries. He has not created employment opportunities,” complained a young businessman. The Union Territory has not even set up information technology parks. Informed sources said the financial position of the government is poor. The previous United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre was not generous with its budgetary allocations because Rangasamy walked out of the Congress to form the AINRC, a businessman said. The Chief Minister also did not lobby with the Centre for increased allocation. The Centre also cut grants to Puducherry, and as a result, the government has accumulated a debt of Rs.6,000 crore.

The AIADMK has favoured three defectors, P. Kannan of the Congress, Vaiyapuri Manikandan of the AINRC, and V.M.C. Sivakumar, with the party ticket. A. Namasivayam, president of the Pradesh Congress Committee, is likely to be in the race for chief ministership if the Congress-DMK alliance is voted to power.

T.S. Subramanian

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