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Skewed factions: Protests in Puducherry against Kiran Bedi nominating 3 BJP MLAs & swearing them in

S Murari | Updated on: 5 July 2017, 18:05 IST
(Photo by K Asif/India Today Group/Getty Images)

All political parties in the Union Territory of Puducherry, barring the pro-BJP All India NR (N Rangaswamy) Congress, have called for a bandh on 8 July against the nomination of three BJP members to the 30-member Territorial Assembly by Lt Governor Kiran Bedi.

The ruling, as well as major Opposition parties, alleged that the BJP is trying to gain entry through the backdoor with the help of a partisan Lt Governor and called it 'undemocratic'.

Soon after getting clearance from the Centre, the Bedi on Tuesday administered the oath of office and secrecy to the three nominated members at a function at Raj Niwas. Other political parties and the media were not invited to this event.

This is a departure from the normal practice. It is usually the Assembly Speaker who swears members into office.

The three nominated members are BJP Puducherry unit president V Swaminathan, party treasurer KG Shankar and educationist S Selvaganapathy.

The three were hurriedly sworn in on Tuesday as Congress legislator K Lakshminarayanan had already moved the Madras High Court challenging the Centre’s notification in this regard.

The first bench of the Madras High Court headed by Chief Justice Indira Banerjee has issued notice to the Union Home Ministry, the concerned legislators and the Puducherry administration on the petition filed by Laskhminarayanan challenging the nomination of the three BJP members.

Chief Minister V Narayananswamy has said the nomination of the three members without the concurrence of the elected government is a violation of rules. The Lt Governor has acted “unilaterally” in swearing in the three legislators Narayanaswamy added.

Moreover, a criminal case is pending against one of the nominated members, he has said without naming the concerned person.

Soon after getting the Central notification, the three legislators met Speaker and former Congress Chief Minister V Vaithilingam. Vaithilingam, however, wanted them to produce the gazette notification in this regard before he could swear them in. And that is when the Lt Governor stepped in.


Power struggle

Nomination of new members is not new to the Puducherry Assembly. What is new is that for so long, it has been the prerogative of the ruling party to name up to three members and get clearance from the Centre.

This time around, the Congress Chief Minister V Narayanasamy has been kept out of the picture and the power has been usurped by Kiran Bedi, marking the second round of tussle between the two.

More than the issue of propriety, it is the potential mischief this act of Bedi's may cause in the Congress government is more of concern. At the moment, the Narayanaswamy ministry has a comfortable majority in the Assembly as the Congress has 15 members and its alliance DMK has two legislators. With the strength of the Assembly having gone up to 33 (from the previous 30), the Government’s majority has become wafer thin.

Curiously, though the nominated members cannot vote in the Rajya Sabha or the Presidential Elections, they can vote in a confidence motion and on the passage of any bill.

The All India NR Congress (AINRC) has eight members. The nominated BJP members can join hands with the AINRC and one independent and destabilise the Congress government because the former French colony has a long history of defections with the same man holding the post – the DMK chief minister – for a term and then switching sides and coming back as the Congress chief minister.

The three BJP members nominated this time around have no base in Puducherry. For example, V Swaminathan lost twice and in the last election, he even lost his security deposit.

The real battle

This is the second run-in between Bedi and Narayanaswamy. The earlier feud happened when he accused her of interfering with the administration. The Centre came to Bedi's rescue saying that unlike governors of full-fledged states, Lt Governors of union territories, even if they have an elected Assembly, have discretionary powers.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has clarified that the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry can act on his/her own judgement without seeking the aid and advice of the council of ministers.

“The Lt Governor would have executive powers wider than the discretion which is exercised by the Governor of a state,” the Home Ministry has said adding that he or she can even act even without the aid of the Council of Ministers.

In the case of a difference of opinion with the Council of Ministers, the matter can be referred to the Centre or the President of India. In a case of urgency, the Lt Governor can take action on his or her own.

However, the power to dispose off business relating to departments on a day-to-day basis is of that of the ministers aided by the secretaries, the MHA made it clear. The Lt. Governor can call for the papers, it has clarified.

This clarification which in effect barred Bedi from meddling in the administration's day-to-day affairs, gave a quietus to the feud which will only flare up now over the nomination row.

First published: 5 July 2017, 18:05 IST