The long standing demand for statehood in Puducherry has peaked yet again with increasing friction between the Lieutenant Governor (LG) Kiran Bedi and Chief Minister V Narayanasamy. In fact, both major political parties in Tamil Nadu - the DMK and AIADMK - have lent support to statehood for Puducherry in their manifesto. In an exclusive interview to TNM, Narayanasamy justified the demand for statehood in order for the administration to run smoothly.
Narayanasamy argues that the question of who has the power in a Union territory with an elected government is crucial in Puducherry’s case. “A government elected by the people has the right and responsibility to fulfill the promises it made to its people. Developmental schemes must be implemented, jobs must be generated, industries must be brought in and there is a lot of confusion regarding these in Union Territories that have their own legislative assemblies,” he tells TNM.
Comparing Puducherry to New Delhi, which is also a Union Territory, Narayanasamy says that there the elected government has more power than the LG which isn’t the case here. “Here the LG is claiming to be more powerful and is returning all the files. This is stalling development in the state. We are asking for statehood because only if that happens, can we implement development schemes for the people based on cabinet approval and without further obstacles,” he adds.
A long-standing demand
Tensions between Bedi and Narayanasamy peaked yet again after Puducherry’s elected ministers protested outside Bedi’s office at Raj Nivas. According to them, Bedi’s used arbitrary methods for enforcing the Madras HC ruling making helmets mandatory for riding two wheelers.
While the LG is the nominal head in a Union Territory, appointed by the President of India, the chief minister is the elected head of the its executive. The Indian political history is chequered with conflicts between these two heads, unless they are from the same party.
The demand for statehood for Puducherry is a product of this friction; though it’s nothing new. In 1977, the first resolution demanding that Puducherry be made a separate state was passed in the legislative assembly by the AIADMK government which was in power at that time. Since then, multiple governments have been in power, but this demand has been a constant one.
In January 2019, most political parties from Puducherry staged a protest in New Delhi, demanding statehood. The protest was led by Chief Minister V Narayanasamy with participants from CPI, CPI(M), PMK, VCK etc.
“We gave letters to the Prime Minister, Home minister and the President requesting statehood for Puducherry. We still have not got any reply on those letters,” he says.
Special category status
While the present government is pushing for full statehood to Puducherry, there were times when demands for a ‘special category’ status were also raised.
Special category status is granted to a state based on certain specified criteria like low per capita income, hilly and difficult terrain, presence of sizeable tribal population etc. States with special category status are entitled to receive 90 percent of their expenditure in the form of grants from the centre. As of now, 11 Indian states have this status, namely Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland.
“We had initially requested for a special category status which will give us 90 percent grants from the centre as opposed to the the 26 percent we are receiving now,” Narayanasamy says. He adds that when the Congress was in power at the centre too, Puducherry was refused special category status due to its inability to fulfil all the criteria. “Hence, we are pushing for statehood now,” he explains.
Centre unlikely to accept the demand
K Venkataramanan, a senior journalist with The Hindu, says the centre may be unlikely to accept the demand because Puducherry is a non-contiguous Union Territory. “It means that Puducherry’s territories are not one single unit. It has Karaikkal which is away from Puducherry in Tamil Nadu, Mahe in Kerala and Yanam in Andhra Pradesh. All other territories in India are by and large contiguous except may be West Bengal, but that also the discontinuous part is close to the main area,” he says.
Referring to the struggle for statehood in Telangana, Venkataramanan points out that it was a ‘people’s struggle’. In Puducherry however, it is largely the political leaders who are demanding statehood – none of the residents have taken to the streets, unlike in Telangana.
“I think the businessmen in Puducherry is opposed to the statehood since they will lose out on the tax benefits they have been receiving over the years. A lot of residents of Puducherry still hold dual citizenship. They retain their French citizenship and two generations of people get the French pension too. They also have certain voting rights in France. So, they feel that they will lose all these benefits if Puducherry becomes a separate state,” he explains.
Venkataramanan adds that the demand for statehood in Puducherry is generally made by the party in power. “In India, the chief minister is a very powerful because the state’s law and order and police come under his or her direct supervision. If you compare, even the Prime Minister does not command the armed forces directly. So, every CM wants the power to control the law and order in their state and they don’t want to be told by the LG what to do,” he explains.
Support from DMK and AIADMK
With less than a month for the Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu, the two major political parties in the state – the DMK and AIADMK - have released their election manifestos. Interestingly, support for statehood for Puducherry finds place both.
However, Narayanasamy is not surprised, even by their demand’s inclusion in AIADMK’s manifesto. The party has allied with the BJP, whose appointee Kiran Bedi is preventing smooth governance in Puducherry, according to Narayanasamy. “It has always been there. We, from Congress, have given this demand to be included in the national-level manifesto of the Congress party. We hope it will find a place there,” he tells TNM.