In an exclusive interview with TNM, Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry Kiran Bedi opens up about her role as governor, her (‘previously’) rocky relationship with Chief Minister Narayanaswamy and her social media outreach.
Your Governorship has been markedly different. People see you on the ground. How and why did you define your governorship in this way?
To meet the larger scope and the higher purpose of this position, this is the only way to work. Secondly, it’s all in the rules and laws. It’s the way you use it. That is why I’m not called the Governor, I’m the Lieutenant Governor. It is an administrator’s post. As an administrator, I’ve got financial responsibilities, service matters, policy issues, disciplinary issues. Now the question is, do I sit and do it or do I see and do it? I’ve decided to see and do it. That’s the only difference. And since it’s a lot of financial responsibility, I have to satisfy myself that the money, which is the hard earned money of the taxpayer- I’m a taxpayer. You’re a taxpayer. Each Indian is a taxpayer. We are all paying a GST. I deal it as if it is my money.
Would it be fair to say that you as LG are going beyond your constitutional mandate?
Everything is laid down in the rules. It’s the way I am applying those rules. Everyone has their own styles of working and I will not like to comment on anybody’s style of working. And I think this the exactly the way our Prime Minister and President want us to be. This is what they actually imagined us to be doing in the Governor’s role. They said, “reach out to the students, connect with the community, stop by and do tours, and meet people.” How else do you do it? They also said exercise financial prudence. The point is, this is exactly the spirit given and shared by the leadership of the government of India. I am not doing what I am told to do. I am doing what my internal conscience tells me to do. Therefore, it takes 14 hours of work, it demands 18 hours of work, and it has to get done.
How would you respond to allegations that the BJP at the centre is using its Governors in states and UTs where they are not in power?
I wish people would understand that they are not using, they are providing. I see Puducherry being fully provided for. The fact is they are the primary providers of all centrally sponsored schemes- hundreds of crores- coming from Government of India. Then there is a regular grant which is more than half the budget. Puducherry being a small place, how much can you generate from individuals? Therefore, it’s being provided for substantially (by the centre).
You don’t think you are being used?
Well, I’m not a commodity to be used. I am an instrument. I am a conduit between the elected assembly and the Government of India. I am a link, a bridge between the two. I have to play the role of a strong bridge.
Your relationship with the present dispensation, the Chief Minister, has not been one of great bonhomie. He has criticised you saying you are interfering in the state govt's affairs and you have said that he has threatened you. Where did it go wrong between the two of you?
What you are talking about is the past. There were certain extraneous circumstances which had come in, which I think instigated it. Those have gone now. Therefore, it’s a good change now. And a right kind of realization has happened in the political leadership that my intention is here only to serve Puducherry, and not my service. It’s people’s service. I think it’s a realisation which has come and I think they have fully respected it now. They are back to us. They are back to Raj Nivas. The extraneous factor which was disrupting the relationship is gone.
Can you tell us about the factor?
Unfortunately, it was about the former Chief Secretary here who I requested to be transferred out. And he has been transferred out. He was the person who was breaking the relationship. I have enough evidence to say it. This is exactly what has been admitted. I won’t say by whom but it’s been admitted that there was a reason for it. I’m so glad that it’s gone and it’s in the past now. We have the finest administrative leadership right now including a new Chief Secretary. We are working in alignment according to the rules and regulations. There can be respectful differences of opinion. But the intention has to be common man’s welfare.
How do you think the Congress in the Union Territory has performed so far?
Well, there are some things which we still have to attend to. Local elections have not been held due to which our rural welfare is not having the grassroot leadership. I think that is something which has been missing. The Prime Minister has called upon and asked the Chief Minister to see that this happens. I think this will go a long way. This is a very big deficiency in the current political governance right now. It requires political will to have this happen.
This is, I think, the biggest deficit. Rest I think- they are not separate from me. We are on the road to a huge recovery now.
Do you think the Cauvery Management Board has to be set up at the earliest?
Well, you can’t have a better application of mind than the Honourable Supreme Court itself. All you have to do is make the best out of it and do the best we can in water management within our own places, whether it is Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, or Puducherry. I can tell you there is a great deal of scope to do water harvesting, desilting of our canals and rivers and ponds, and save every drop of rain.
We need to respect the environment all over the country. That’s what Swachhta Abhiyan is all about. It is not just cleaning the streets. It is clean air, clean environment, clean water, better health. Of course, it certainly begins with clean streets.
Recently the arrest of a Frenchman on allegations of child sexual abuse rocked Puducherry and it was widely believed that the police was under pressure from authorities owing to the fact that man accused was a French national. Do you think in light of such crimes, it's fair for the French population to demand their own police station?
They’ve not said we want our own police station. They are saying, we have a language issue and can we have a contact point where we can have communication with somebody who understands. It was just that. It is a contact point for them.
The first thing we gave them was a questionnaire. How do you feel here? It was cent percent very comfortable, secure and at peace. Thereafter, we started to ask what more can we do? Then they said, if we could get more integrated in the university admissions, and wanted their language and facilitation issues sorted out. They are after all a community and they have their own unique needs. And I think we need to respect that. Like any other segment of society.
Since you first took over in 2016, how do you think the law enforcement approach to crime and alcoholism in Puducherry has changed?
It’s become much more systematic. It’s more scientific, more organized, more sensitive, better trained, more visible. But there is a long way to go. It’s much more gender sensitive. We have many more women on the field, in the ground. We have many more women doing beat patrolling which is not so common in the rest of the states.
Has social media helped you define your governorship?
Administration is all about communication, I’m not into an intelligence agency. People’s governance means all forms of communication openly. And it cost me nothing. I don’t advertise. I don’t spend government money in advertisements. I use the social networks. We reach out to the people. No cost but we’re constantly keeping people informed and keep them engaged, keeping them related and keeping them participated. It’s collaborative. So these are strengths of social media. I am not here for myself. Every policy has a people’s implication. How do I connect to them? I am not a radio, I don’t have the television. But I have the social network, I have the internet.
It’s not overbearing?
No. There’s a distribution of work. We have a social network cell which does films, which does Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Telegram management. We have a role to play. We have a website. Everything is on the web and available. We use all the tools to communicate with people according to the need. We have a very good documentation of what we do. It also keeps us informed what people are thinking. That is where to correct. We pick up the negative message. For me, it is a feedback. I am here in public service. Public service cannot be without communication.