Wide-spread speculation on whether the DMK has decided to contest the upcoming assembly elections in Puducherry on its own has come as an another setback for the Congress. The anti-incumbency wave against the ruling party and intra-party disputes in the Congress have prompted the DMK to consider dropping it from the alliance.
Puducherry has the presence of all major political parties like the DMK, the AIADMK, the Congress and the Left. But when it comes to forming a government in this union territory, the Congress has always taken the lead. Puducherry has been a Congress bastion for several decades now.
From its inception as a Union territory in 1963 to now, the Congress and its breakaway party, the All India N R Congress (AINRC) founded by N Rangaswamy in 2011, have repeatedly formed the government for 11 terms. The Congress has always joined force with the DMK to form the governmet, while the AINRC continues to ally with the AIADMK.
In between, the Union territory has seen President’s rule six times. The DMK has formed the government for four terms, while the AIADMK has ruled the UT for two terms.
The current government formed by Congress in 2016 has an alliance with the DMK. Of the total 33 members in the assembly, the Congress has 14 members, while the DMK has three. In the Opposition, AINRC has seven and the AIADMK has four members.
One member is an independent candidate (from Mahe), while one constituency (Bahour) fell vacant in July 2020 after its MLA Danavelou was sacked by the Speaker for his anti-party activities. The members for the remaining three seats should be nominated by the government.
Generally, the members are nominated based on the list submitted by the state government. But, this time, the Centre has disregarded the list sent by chief minister V Narayanaswamy and instead appointed three members from the BJP. Of the three, KG Shankar died of cardiac-arrest on January 17 and the seat has become vacant.
War between Governor and CM
The dispute between the incumbent government and the Centre has been triggered by this nomination. Lt Governor Kiran Bedi permitted the three nominated members to take oath at midnight at her residence, though it was strongly opposed by the state government. From thereon, Bedi allegedly started intervening in the administration’s functioning.
Commenting on the ongoing war between the governor and the CM, S Ramachandran, secretariat member, CPM, Puducherry, said: “She (Bedi) vowed to abolish ration shops in the Union territory. She prevented the free rice scheme during COVID-19 lockdown saying that she would only allow cash transfer. But, people prefer rice over cash. The UT went to the Madras High Court, which upheld the government decision. Even after the court order, she tried to create confusion by saying that they would distribute rice through teachers instead of the public distribution staff. The ration shop staff, too, have not been paid salaries for months.”
Also, Bedi allegedly closed three cotton mills in the territory. She sent back the unsigned files related to filling up 9,200 vacancies in the government department, he said.
Ramachandran continued: “Bedi is not cooperating with the government to provide 10 per cent reservation to government school students in higher education. She supports private medical colleges when the state brings 50% government quota seats in these colleges. She does not accept officers appointed by the state to conduct local body elections. Nearly 40 files related to welfare schemes are pending before the governor. But, she has not taken a single step towards the welfare of the people here.”
DMK plans to ditch Congress
To show his opposition to Bedi’s interference in the administration, Narayanaswamy staged a six-day sit-in dharna in February 2019. But, it did not bear any fruit. Even after the dharna, it is alleged, Bedi continues to hold sway over the government.
As a result of this uneasy equation with the goveernor, Narayanaswamy kickstarted an indefinite dharna from January 8 in protest against Bedi’s continuance as governor. While the allies of the Congress such as the CPI, CPM, VCK participated in the protest, the DMK significantly did not join.
A statement issued by Puducherry DMK MLA R Siva on January 10 said his party is unable to take part in the protest because it has doubts on whether the state government is displaying its opposition in an effective manner.
Explained Siva: “The chief minister could have dismissed his government when the Centre appointed three members from BJP and thus registered his opposition against the Centre’s undemocratic practices. The government had also ended its 2019 dharna, in which the DMK had taken part, by considering a talk with Bedi as a victory of their agitation. Even now, there is no fierce opposition from the Congress. It is mum on Bedi’s undemocratic measures. It is doubtful whether democracy can be saved through this dharna. That’s why the DMK has not participated in the agitation.”
Besides Narayanaswamy’s weak and inept handling of Bedi, party disputes within the Congress have added to the speculation that its alliance with the DMK will end soon. It is believed that inner party rivalry has pushed Congress leaders like Dhanavelou to join the BJP and Congress MLAs like A John Kumar to consider shifting loyalties.
The DMK unit in the Union territory has reportedly informed its party leadership about these developments and has suggested dropping the Congress from the alliance in Puducherry. This would bolster DMK’s chances to form a government for the fifth time in the Union territory.
AV Subramanian, president, Puducherry Pradesh Congress Committee, however, is hopeful that the DMK will not let them down. “We hope the DMK will not take two opposite decisions like tying up with the Congress in Tamil Nadu and letting us down in Puducherry.”
Agreeing that the DMK state unit is dissatisfied with the Narayanaswamy government, Subramanian said the Congress would try to retain the DMK by their side. “We will speak with the DMK leadership and arrive at a good decision. We will try to convince them. Though the DMK leaders here are disappointed with us, the final decision should be taken by DMK leader Stalin,” said Subramanian.
DMK party functionaries in Puducherry were not available for comment.