AFTER four tenures as a Member of Parliament, V. Narayanasamy was picked by the Congress high command to become Puducherry Chief Minister. The sure-footed yet unassuming politician was Parliamentary Affairs Minister in the first United Progressive Alliance government. He underplays his differences with the Lieutenant Governor and says that he strives to provide a responsive administration. He met this correspondent at his residence, and talked about his new role and his vision for the Union Territory.
Puducherry is a very small Union Territory. It has districts such as Yanam, which is more than 800 km away from Puducherry; Karaikal, which is about 130 km away; and Mahe, which is over 600 km away. It is expensive to maintain outposts in these places. How do the dynamics work out? Is it possible to have control over these territories from Puducherry?
This situation is not our creation. It is an international agreement signed by the Government of India and the French government. This is what the French government wanted, and the Indian government committed itself to. In 1977, the Morarji [Desai] government tried to make Mahe a part of Kerala, Karaikal a part of Tamil Nadu, and Yanam a part of Andhra Pradesh. There was a big agitation at that time. The Janata Party was in power in Puducherry. Thereafter, they could not come to power. Politically also, the people want a separate identity for the Union Territory of Puducherry.
A small Union Territory like Puducherry faces additional problems such as being dependent on the Centre for funds, for instance. What has been your experience in dealing with the Union government?
I have a good relationship with the Central government though I am the Chief Minister of a Congress-ruled State. I have a good equation with the Central Ministers, the Prime Minister, everybody. My priority is development of the State. I don’t want to cross swords with anyone, unless and until something is in conflict with my party’s interests. I don’t want to unnecessarily fight with them [the Central government] like Arvind Kejriwal. Therefore, my equation with the Central government is good. They are all cooperating with us. They are giving lots of schemes and projects for the State. Now, slowly, we have taken off. We are moving steadily and slowly because of some administrative bottlenecks that I cannot explain since I am part of it. The bureaucracy, which was not working for the last 10 years, is now working. Because, when we started working, they also started working. Therefore, we can see the visible results after two years.
Administratively, does the Government of Puducherry have enough powers to fulfil its mandate? Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been raising the issue of lack of powers in Delhi. How different is Puducherry from Delhi?
There is a clear provision given for the Union Territory of Puducherry for the creation of a Legislature and a Council of Ministers under Article 239 A [of the Constitution]. Article 240 provides a clause that if the Assembly is constituted the President shall cease to exercise his powers as far as the Union Territory of Puducherry is concerned. Therefore, when the President himself has no powers, anybody below cannot exercise any extraordinary power.
Look at Article 239, 239A and 240. All the three provisions were exclusively for Puducherry. We have got Law and Order, Land, Services. These are with the Government of Puducherry. Article 239 AA is for Delhi. There’s a State List. According to this, the Chief Minister and the Council of Ministers have to carry out day-to-day administration. There is a Concurrent List, where the Lieutenant Governor has to act on the advice of the Chief Minister. There’s a Central List. That has to go to the government of India. It is defined in the rules. Some people—they are not able to understand. As far as I am concerned, I am following the rules and I am moving with the administration.
There has been a minor problem involving a Municipal Commissioner here, which has brought to the fore the question of separation of powers between the Chief Minister/government and the Lieutenant Governor’s office. It appears that in your view the elected government is supreme.
As far as I am concerned, I never interfere in others’ powers. I give full liberty to the Ministers to act. I will not allow anyone to interfere in my powers, which are enshrined in the Constitution, the Union Territories Act, and the Rules of Business. The Municipal Commissioner issue is not my creation. The [Legislative] Assembly Speaker will be the correct person to answer that. I can only implement the decision of the Speaker.
How can this issue between the two constitutional functionaries be sorted out?
The [Union] Home Ministry is the arbiter. I have given them the facts of the case, relating to the powers of the Chief Minister, the Ministers and the Lieutenant Governor. I am yet to receive a reply.
There does not seem to be any big difference between most political parties in Puducherry, even if the very same parties have huge ideological differences even in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Why is this so?
We don’t have any personal animosity towards anybody. During election time we do politics. After that if there is a marriage in, say, an AIADMK [All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] person’s family, we all will be there. They also come to our family functions. Personal relationships are different from politics. Here we will not give up our party’s ideology merely because we do this. We draw a line between politics and friendship.