The upheaval that took place on Tuesday, in Puducherry, one of the last remaining bastions of the Congress, witnessed one more MLA throwing in the towel, adding to a total tally of four MLAs who had resigned in the recent past. The resignation has caused the Congress party, headed by V Narayanasamy, to lose the majority in the Union Territory. What has also transpired alongside is the sudden removal of Kiran Bedi, who served as the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry from 2016 onward. Additional charge of the UT has been given to Tamilisai Soundararajan, the Governor of Telangana with almost immediate effect.
The two recent developments must have set off alarm bells in the Congress party’s high command, and rightly so. Rahul Gandhi, who is in Puducherry to kick-start its election campaign, now has a tall order ahead of him, starting with the damage control measures for the loss of the four MLAs. The ruling coalition of the Congress and the DMK in Puducherry currently makes up for 14 of the 28 assembly seats. While it may be too early to write off a seasoned politician like Narayanasamy, it is clear that the top priority is to ensure that the party keeps its loyalists close. And there is optimism that Gandhi will be the silver bullet needed to give a fitting reply to the BJP that has constantly attempted to topple the ruling government by poaching its legislators.
The resignation of the MLAs is just one aspect of the high drama that played out this week. What might prove to be the equivalent of Queen’s Gambit for the BJP was the order to remove Kiran Bedi as the LG of Puducherry. Bedi and Narayanasamy have been at loggerheads since the time she assumed charge in the former French colony. Her actions - whether it was instituting town halls and grievance redressal meetings or even getting her hands dirty when it came to civic issues - would often result in the ruling party accusing her of running a dictatorial, one-woman administration.
So when the Narayanasamy government staged a three-day dharna last month seeking Bedi’s removal, they got what they wanted. However, there could be far-reaching implications of Bedi’s removal. For one, the Congress has lost one of the party’s major trump cards, the right to call out a Lieutenant Governor and a BJP member at that, for bypassing the democratically elected legislators in carrying out her duties. Further weakening their position is the fact that two of the MLAs who resigned from the Congress have already joined the BJP, a sign of the nationalist party’s well-calibrated Operation Kamal reaping rich dividends.
It is worth contemplating what kind of message the BJP wanted to send out by removing Bedi as an LG. It is likely that they want to eliminate any chance for fault-finding during their Mission Puducherry, come election season during May. The fact that it was clinical enough to remove an esteemed member of its own party points to the laser focus of the party in ensuring there are no impediments to its style of governance. The straight trees are the first to be cut and for all practical reasons, Bedi might only be the first of the many casualties in BJP’s unwavering march ahead.