V Narayanasamy is not saying if he approves of Arvind Kejriwal's methods, hemmed in as he seems to be by the position taken by the Congress leadership. This despite the Puducherry CM's own run-in with the L-G of his Union Territory, Kiran Bedi, for the last two years now.
“How can I say whether Arvind Kejriwal is doing the right thing or not?” asks Narayansamy, speaking from New Delhi. “Yes, we also have been facing issues with the Puducherry L-G but we will explore other fora to express our grievances. I have personally represented to the President of India, the PM and the Home minister. The PM told me he will look into it. If need be, we will go to court.”
In the interim, Narayanasamy has adopted a rather direct and blunt approach vis-a-vis the Puducherry L-G, both writing to her and meeting her in person to tell her to back off. He has accused Bedi of interfering in administration of the Union Territory on a day-to-day basis, calling officers for review meetings without taking the minister concerned or CM into confidence. This he believes, is done with an eye on seeking publicity.
“She issues orders on the spot during field inspections, without informing the secretary concerned. This is illegal and not according to rules. I told her personally this was not the right thing to do,” says Narayanasamy.
Narayanasamy's angst is that Bedi is acting as a parallel power centre, almost as if two governments are functioning in Puducherry. Which is why the CM is pushing for Puducherry to be elevated to a state, so that a regular Governor will then be just a figurehead. Narayanasamy is also asking for special status like Andhra Pradesh and Bihar have demanded.
It is but natural then that eyebrows have been raised at the Congress' hands-off approach on Delhi when the party's own CM in Puducherry is the victim of what many see as a similar outreach by Kiran Bedi. So has the Congress party's antipathy to Kejriwal and a disdain to be seen by his side, let down Narayanasamy?
Faced with criticism over taking a rather tunnel vision approach to the Kejriwal episode, Rahul Gandhi tweeted belatedly but it was neither here nor there, not taking a clear position on where the party stands on the issue. It called the people of Delhi the “victims” and what's playing out in the city state, a “drama”.
In fact, the Congress is trying to subtly point out that the situation in Delhi and Puducherry is a bit different. In its book, both Kejriwal and the Centre are to blame for the Delhi fiasco while in Puducherry, the L-G is the villain of the piece. But such a walk on eggshells is unlikely to find takers.
Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera finds fault with Kejriwal doing little to contain the damage arising out of the alleged assault on the Delhi chief secretary, which was the trigger for the no-cooperation stir by the bureaucrats. In a column in First Post, he calls Kejriwal's protest an “air-conditioned dharna”, playing cheap politics. The Congress says it does not want to get distracted by Kejriwal's optical diversions and points to how it delivered for 15 years under the same conditions.
The Congress’ nuance is that in Puducherry, unlike in Delhi, under Article 239, 239 (A) and 240, law and order and services are under the control of the elected government. Therefore, the Congress government does not wish to brook any interference by the L-G in these matters. In Delhi, these powers are vested in the Union Home ministry of the central government.
Narayanasamy has been a lone warrior, soldiering on for the government's cause in Puducherry, even raising it at the Niti Aayog meeting on Sunday. The impression gaining ground is that Narayanasamy's cause has been sacrificed at the altar of the Congress party's own issues with Kejriwal. Not surprising, considering Puducherry seems too distant when the epicentre of politics is Delhi. Also, Puducherry with one Lok Sabha seat is much less politically important than Delhi with 7 seats.
What the Congress does not realise is that it is not really about the AAP and Kejriwal. It is about the institution of the Governor, or the L-G in these two cases, and how Raj Niwas is accused of creating hurdles in the working of elected governments. It is also about how the BJP at the Centre gives the impression that it will not allow governments run by opposition parties to work in peace.
The Congress looked at the Kejriwal episode as a Delhi affair and not one that could act as a glue ahead of 2019. If it wished to take this “for the people” approach, it could have done so early instead of coming across looking like a party that is unable to make up its mind. For a party that aims to lead the opposition alliance, its no-show when the four CMs met at Kejriwal's residence made it seem like rookies were drawing up strategy for the party. Not having Narayanasamy representing the Congress on Saturday evening was a political opportunity missed.
(Views expressed by the author are personal.)