Battle For Puducherry

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Congress gamble to stem the rising tide of the BJP

A big battle is on for the control of the Assembly of the Union Territory of Puducherry where elections are slated for April 6. Puducherry will witness three-cornered fights among the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, the Congress-led Secular Democratic Alliance and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). While the Bharatiya Janata Party has tied up with All India N R Congress (AINRC) and the AIADMK, the Congress has joined forces with the DMK, VKC and CPI. The PMK, which was to be a part of the NDA, walked out of it over seat sharing problems and is contesting all 30 seats by itself. Pre-poll surveys have indicated an easy walk for the NDA but the situation appears to have changed with the PMK deciding to go solo and contesting all constituencies. Adding to the problems of the NDA, a number of workers of the AINRC and BJP have entered the electoral fray and are contesting as independents which could take away some percentage of vote of the two alliance partners.

In the 2016 elections the Congress had emerged as the single largest party and formed the government with its allies. However, its government was brought down just a month before completion of its full term following a spate of resignations of party legislators and ministers, who switched over to the BJP, finding the grass greener on the other side. Former chief minister V Narayanswamy had a tumultuous tenure and faced challenges frequently to his authority from the then Lt Governor Kiran Bedi. Bedi was removed by the Centre just a few days before the Congress-led alliance was reduced to a minority. The BJP, which could not get any of its candidates elected in 2016, managed to get three of its leaders nominated to the Assembly.  Though the Congress lost power a few days before the term of the Assembly was over, the BJP and the other opposition parties did not try to stake a claim to form an alternative government, though they had the number on their side. Analysts believe this was done to deny any sympathy of voters towards the Congress and its allies.

The BJP is yet to establish deep roots in Puducherry to be able to get a sizable number of its nominees elected. It has started by pulling down the Congress-led government by poaching a few of its MLAs. Across India the BJP has used every trick to show the Congress leadership in poor light in order to gain upper hand and succeeded in ousting the only Congress-led government in South India. Though the BJP did not form an alternative government, it is going to use all means to reap a good harvest of votes using the goodwill of its allies to spread its roots in the South. Of course, the BJP and its allies cannot ignore the possibility of rebel candidates fighting as independents eating into the votes of the official nominees of the NDA. Both the BJP and AINRC have expelled close to a dozen leaders for “anti-party activities,” and these leaders claim to have support of their own in their constituencies and are trying their luck as independents.

 The BJP leadership played its cards well to destabilise the Congress-led government and make sure that the fall of government did not happen as long as Bedi was the Lt Governor, as the hostility between her and Narayanswamy was well known and could have added to the advantage of the Congress. The BJP managed to win over disgruntled Congress MLAs with whom they were in touch for a long time. The party appointed Tamilisai Soundararajan as L-G hoping to cash in on the public sentiment of having a Tamilian in the post. All these moves, along with the anti-incumbency of the Congress-led government and rebellion of a few MLAs, could work to the advantage of BJP. However, the rebellion in the NDA could work to the advantage of the Congress and neutralize the BJP’s advantage. Though poll pundits have forecast defeat of the Congress-led alliance, the party has taken the gamble of going to polls under Narayanswamy’s leadership, even though he is not contesting any seat.