Puducherry govt falls on brink of elections
V Narayanasamy resigned as Puducherry chief minister on Monday ahead of a floor test to prove that his party, the Congress, has a majority, throwing the Union Territory (UT) into a crisis, potentially just weeks before assembly elections are announced.
Narayanasamy had looked set to lose the floor test. The Opposition, comprising the All India NR Congress and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), has a majority of 14 representatives, including three nominated MLAs representing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 33-member House. It is unlikely to stake a claim to form government, and President’s rule is imminent, opposition party leaders said.
The Congress was jolted with six (five Congress and one Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) legislators resigning in the run-up to the trust vote, ordered by the newly appointed Lieutenant Governor (L-G) Tamilisai Soundararajan after it was sought by the Opposition.
When legislators occupied the assembly on Monday, there were seven vacancies in the 33-member (30 elected; 3 nominated) assembly. The government’s strength was 12, including two DMK MLAs, an independent legislator and speaker VP Sivakozhundu. The speaker votes only when there is a tie. There was no need for that, though.
The collapse of the government means the Congress isn’t part of the government in any southern state or UT. Since 2019, the Congress has seen its governments collapse in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, largely on account of internal issues.
In an hour-long speech on the floor of the assembly, Narayanasamy attacked the BJP-led Centre and recently ousted L-G Kiran Bedi for colluding with the Opposition and topping his government. “What is happening in Puducherry now is political prostitution, but the truth will prevail,” Narayanasamy said.
Narayanasamy and his loyalists argued that the nominated members could not vote. Opposition MLAs were on their feet, drawing to their defence a Supreme Court ruling that interpreted the 1963 UT Act that allows nominated members the powers of elected MLAs.
Soon after, Narayansamy and his 11 MLAs walked out. “We walked out as the Speaker refused to accept our contention that only elected members and not nominated MLAs have a right to vote,” said Narayanasamy, who then submitted his resignation to Soundararajan.
Last Tuesday, amidst Congress MLAs resigning, Bedi was removed as L-G and Telangana governor Soundararajan was handed additional charge of Puducherry. Narayanasamy, who had been at odds with Bedi since 2016, had appealed to the President to recall her and rejoiced at her removal. But senior BJP leaders in the Capital said at the time that they didn’t want a seemingly partisan person to be L-G when President’s rule seemed imminent.
Puducherry BJP president V Samithan said that while no move was discussed so far to stake claim to form the government, the party’s national leadership will take a decision.
Former chief minister and opposition leader N Rangasamy, visibly happy as he walked out of the assembly, said the government lost “because they didn’t deliver on their promises but they are blaming the Centre”. He, too, said that the next course of action will soon be discussed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to visit Puducherry on February 25 to inaugurate government projects and will later head to Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore district to participate in a BJP rally in the state, which will also go to the polls shortly.
Analysts say that polls in Puducherry may be delayed and will not be held alongside Tamil Nadu and three other states. “BJP government will want the President’s rule to go on for at least six months so they can build their base,” said political commentator Maalan Narayanan. “Administratively, through the L-G, they will roll out development projects and restart projects that were stalled. Politically, they will weaken the Congress further, (perhaps) use Modi’s visit to poach more MLAs. Rangasamy may want early elections hoping to be chief minister because he wouldn’t like to be dependent on the nominated (BJP) MLAs.”
DMK chief MK Stalin called the elected government’s fall a “murder of democracy”. He said his party will move court if the BJP tries to delay polls in the UT.
“In the coming elections people will punish the Opposition who used the three nominated MLAs (of the BJP) to topple our government,” Narayansamy told reporters.
Samithan responded: “He lost because his MLAs resigned. What do our nominated MLAs have to do with it?”
On Sunday, Congress MLA K Lakshminarayanan and DMK MLA K Venkatesan resigned. On Monday, the DMK suspended Venkatesan. Since late January, four other Congress MLAs — including former ministers A Namassivayam and Malladi Krishna Rao — have quit, while another party legislator was disqualified for anti-party activities last year.
Namassivayam and another MLA have joined the BJP.