After the collapse of the Congress government on February 22, the Union Territory of Puducherry is gearing up to embrace President’s Rule. With the Opposition parties not interested in forming the government for two months, Lt Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan recommend President’s Rule, and the Union Cabinet accepted it.
On February 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Puducherry as part of the BJP’s poll campaign.
There are many reasons why the Congress bit the dust in the assembly floor test and lost power. One of the reasons is the alleged role of the BJP, acting hand in glove with the Opposition, to lure ruling MLAs away.
Another key reason is the rivalry within the Congress. The party, in both Tamil Nadu and the UT, suffers from what is known in local parlance as koshti poosal (groupism). In Tamil Nadu, there are various groups, each comprising a leader and his supporters, such as the ‘Elangovan ani’ (ani means team), ‘Chidambaram ani’, ‘Vasan ani’, ‘Thangkabalu ani’ or the ‘Thirunavukkarasu ani’. In Puducherry, the current Congress committee was divided into two camps: ‘Narayanasamy ani’ and ‘Namassivayam ani’.
Though the intra-party rivalry in the Congress has been at play for many years, the seeds of the current political turmoil were sown back in 2016. In 2015, AV Subramanian was replaced by A Namassivayam, the then MLA from Villianur constituency, as Puducherry Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president. The decision was taken in view of the 2016 assembly election, in which the party had emerged victorious, largely due to Namassivayam’s hard work.
This fuelled the inner-party rivalry between Namassivayam and V Vaithilingam, a senior leader, who had twice served as chief minister of Puducherry. Both were vying for the CM’s post. Meanwhile, Narayanasamy, who was close to senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel in New Delhi, jumped into the race and bagged the post.
After Narayanasamy formed the government, Vaithilingam got the speaker’s post. However, after he became a Lok Sabha MP in 2019, VP Sivakolunthu was selected to replace him. His appointment was opposed by K Lakshminarayanan, and his supporters. It was Lakshminarayanan who filed a case in the Madras High Court seeking clarity on the voting rights of nominated MLAs. He resigned his MLA post and exited the party, a day before the Congress had to face the crucial floor test on February 21.
“Inner party rivalry exists in every party. But, as a norm, the party high command will intervene and sort out the issue. This is lacking in the Congress, ” said Lakshminarayanan.
The Congress top brass never tried to resolve the rivalry, they just kept postponing decisions, he added.
“When party leadership know that functionaries are dissatisfied, they should immediately hold talks, pacify them and try to compensate them by providing some other posting or give them additional responsibilities. But none of this was done,” said Lakshminarayanan, who claimed that he tried reaching out to Congress leaders many times.
“I wrote letters to leaders like Sonia Gandhi, Ghulam Nabi Azad asking them to raise the issue of statehood for Puducherry in Parliament. They never sent me even an acknowledgement letter. Whereas, when I sent a letter to Amit Shah regarding delay in smart city projects, I immediately got a response. While this is the situation, how can I meet the top leaders and express my anguish?” Lakshminarayanan asked.
According to Congress party rules, a leader cannot occupy two positions at the same time. If he occupies a post in the party, he will not be given a position in the government and vice-versa. Keeping 2021 assembly elections in mind, the Congress leaders appointed AV Subramanian to helm the local unit once again in March 2020. Till then, Namassivayam was serving as party chief and held a ministerial post as well. When he was removed as party chief, a disgruntled Namassivayam resigned on January 25.
But Namassivayam is not a true Congressman. Over the years, he has been shifting loyalties from one party to another. He started his career in DMK, shifted to MDMK and then jumped to Tamil Maanila Congress and, subsequently, aligned himself with the Congress. Now he sits on the BJP perch.
Congress party functionaries were against him because of his turncoat behaviour and were displeased with the party leadership for giving him importance.
It is this same inner party rivalry that had driven N Rangasamy to resign his chief minister’s post in 2008. He held the post for seven consecutive years and was replaced by Vaithilingam. After realising that he is being sidelined by the party, Rangasamy floated his own party in his name, the All India N Rangasamy Congress, in 2011. Interestingly, within three months of launching his party, he became CM.
In 2016, many leaders like MNR Balan and N Dhanavelu, who was disqualified from the assembly in 2020 for anti-party activities, shifted their loyalties from NR Congress to INC. It seems history is now repeating itself but in favour of Rangasamy. Defectors like Lakshminarayanan are flocking to the NR Congress camp.
Meanwhile, commenting on the sudden resignations of Congress MLAs, AV Subramanian, chief, PPCC, said, “The people who exited our party were the ones who planned to exit a year before. They are not permanent loyalists.”
Explaining the reasons for the spate of resignations, Subramanian said, “Namassivayam expected both a chief minister post and the party chief post. That cannot be done and so he left. One of the MLAs was threatened with IT raids, while another member left because he expected us to provide money for work in the upcoming elections. Here, a candidate needs to spend up to ₹5 crores for a constituency, we cannot afford that kind of money and so he left. Another member left because he felt that his contribution to the party was not recognised.”