There is a parody which is doing rounds in social media that will aptly describe the current situation in the poll-bound Puducherry. It says “Puducherry CM V. Narayanaswamy urged the Centre to recall the Lieutenant Governor and former IPS officer Kiran Bedi but the Centre removed both from their positions”. It is like hitting two birds with one stone. CM has been consistently grumbling against Bedi and Modi. The Lt Governor, a straight forward, has been setting things right which was not liked by the Congress-led coalition government.
An unexpected development last night took everyone by surprise. A brief communique from Rashtrapathi Bhavan saying the removal of Kiran Bedi as Puducherry Lieutenant Governor amid crisis in Congress government. It says, “the President has directed that Dr Kiran Bedi shall cease to hold the office of the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry and has appointed Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan, Governor of Telangana, to discharge the functions of the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, in addition to her own duties, with effect from the date she assumes charge of her office until regular arrangement for the office of Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry is made”.
The action of President Ramnath Kovind comes amid the political turmoil that the union territory has been witnessing for quite some time. The ruling Congress-led government has been reduced to a minority following one more MLA quit the party on 16th February. He is the second MLA to resign from the party. The ruling Congress-DMK alliance and the opposition AIADMK-BJP alliance now have 14 MLAs each in the House. The current effective strength of the Assembly is 28. The 33-member Puducherry Legislature includes three nominated MLAs.
Congress has 10 MLAs and the DMK three, and the ruling coalition is supported by an independent. In the opposition camp, of the 14m seven are from NR Congress, four of the AIADMK and three nominated BJP MLAs.
Both the Lt. Governor and the CM had been at loggerheads over a range of issues from appointment, approval and matters related to governance. Dr Bedi, an upright IPS officer, was functioning till late 16th evening and reviewed the COVID-19 vaccination drive in the union territory. She was issuing directions to bringing in the police force and sanitation workers in the frontline worker category for the inoculation.4
CM Naryanaswamy, taking a cue from West Bengal counterpart Mamta Bannerjee and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, staged an indefinite dharna outside Raj Niwas in 2019. His cabinet colleagues also took part in the dharna, without permission, demanding that Lt Governor accord a sanction for 39 government proposals including free rice scheme. The Congress government took strong exception to the ‘continued rejection of government proposals to ameliorate the lot of the poor and have nots’. Denying the averments, Dr Bedi said that minister had levelled unfounded allegations against her. CM, Ministers, MLAs have turned from lawmakers to lawbreakers’.
Last week, V Narayanswamy met the President with a demand to recall over her alleged interference in the administration of the elected government. Ms Bedi, who was appointed in 2016, alleged that “vested interests’ in Puducherry have raised the demand. She said it was due to the ‘transparency in governance (under her leadership) by optimum use of technology, due diligence, financial prudence and court orders always upholding the act and rules of the union territory’’. Ms Bedi also released a public statement detailing four major digital transformations within the administration in the past few years. “These changes have broken through the monopolies and made the administration direct, transparent and accountable leaving no scope for favouritism, corruption and hiding information. She also said “serious breach of the protocol has been noticed where the presence of the Lt. Governor has been conveniently overlooked. No basic courtesies of any prior information were sent to Lt. Governor/ administrator about this historical event – the inauguration of the Marie building event. She has also warned that any omission in this process will call for an explanation and required action’.
Govindarajan, a retired central government official, said, “Ms Bedi moved around the union territory like a cop sans baton. A good administrator. She was instrumental in releasing the long-pending EB arrears amounting to Rs.50 crore from politicians. She had released the photographs of defaulters of EB Charges. Her actions made jittery for the politicians who are used to corrupt means. She refused to sign documents if proper accounts were not submitted. When the mandiwalas and politicians were staging dharnas, she without fear peddled her cycle around the city and directed officials to take actions then and there. She even cleared traffic jams and is seen interacting with common man on the road, listening to their problems. Questioning motorists if they did not wear helmets or violates traffic rules. They will miss this simple down to earth official in action”.
Puducherry CM led delegation complained to the President that Bedi was acting in a ‘typical autocratic’ manner in violation of Constitutional provisions and rule of law. They also accused her of interfering with the day-to-day affairs of the elected government and blocking all welfare and development schemes. From the day one of Bedi assuming office, Narayanaswamy has been waging war against her. There were court cases against her by the Narayanswamy government over her powers.
What triggered the government losing majority was MLA A John Kumar tendered his resignation to Speaker V P Sivakolunthu on 16th morning. Former Health Minister Malladi Krishna Rao, who had quit the Cabinet, had posted his resignation on Twitter on 16th. Kumar is likely to join BJP. Another Congress MLA N Dhanavelu was disqualified earlier over allegations of anti-party activities. Former minister and no 2 in the cabinet A Namassivayam and his supporter MLA E Theeppainthan have joined the BJP recently. During his visit to the Union territory, BJP National president JP Nadda was confident by saying “Kamalam is going to blossom, Kamalam is going to grow in Puducherry- we will win 23 plus seats and will form a government”. His foresight or dream is slowly coming true with the government loses its majority. Even before the poll, chances of BJP led coalition government is bright as more MLAs likely to resign from Congress. This has diminished chances of DMK which has been dreaming of forming the next government in the UT.
A senior journalist Senkottai Sriram said, “ the recall of Lt Governor in the poll-bound Puducherry is in lines with BJP’s thinking. Now the Congress-led coalition government has been reduced to a minority. The new government has to be formed if it is proved minority on the floor of the assembly. Before polls, BJP wants a smooth transition as its winning chances are bright. Normally, additional charges are given to TN governor which 3 hours’ drive from Tamil Nadu. But this time, it has assigned this additional charges to Telangana Governor who hails from Tamil Nadu. I think BJP has a big game plan to form the next government. Bedi may be accommodated in some other capacities considering her experience and expertise on various matters”.