Kiran Bedi vs Narayanasamy: A brief history of their face-offs

The Lt Governor Kiran Bedi and Chief Minister V Narayanasamy have several face offs in the past, most of them arising out of a turf war over Puducherry’s administration.
Kiran Bedi vs Narayanasamy: A brief history of their face-offs
Kiran Bedi vs Narayanasamy: A brief history of their face-offs

For the third day in a row Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy and his cabinet continued their sit-in protest outside the Raj Nivas until Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi agrees to some of their demands. Arguably one of the most dramatic of disagreements between Bedi and Narayanasamy to date, this issue looks like it may not resolve anytime soon. While Bedi, the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry who is currently not in the Union Territory, has invited the Chief Minister to discuss the government’s demands on February 21, the latter is in no mood to oblige.

He responded to the invite stating that there was absolutely no need for any such meeting. “The government has put before Bedi all their proposals and she is well aware of them,” reports quoted him as saying.

That Chief Minister Narayanasamy and Lt Governor Kiran Bedi being at loggerheads with each other is nothing new. The duo has shared a tumultuous relationship ever since they took charge as the Chief Minister and Lieutenant Governor of the Union Territory in 2016. However, most of the issues that have triggered this fresh spate of protests are old ones, arising out of a turf war over Puducherry.

A look back at past disputes 

It was in December 2016, a few months after both the Congress government and the Lieutenant Governor came into power that the silent dispute between both the parties broke into a public tug of war. What triggered it was the suspension of a Civil Services officer, AS Sivakumar, who allegedly sent an obscene video to a WhatsApp group called ‘Prosperous Rural Puducherry’ created by Bedi for administrative efficiency. A case was filed against the officer and Bedi immediately asked for Sivakumar’s suspension. In his defence, Sivakumar argued that he it was an accident and he had meant to delete the video.  He also explained that the suspension can only come from the Chief Secretary’s officer after due enquiry, he explained.

Bedi’s suspension order provoked the government. Following this, the Chief Minister issued an order prohibiting all MLAs and Ministers from using social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Twitter for official communication. The order came after Narayanasamy learnt that Bedi was communicating with all office bearers directly via WhatsApp. Several groups on WhatsApp which included MLAs and IAS officers closed down following this. However, Bedi struck back almost instantaneously by cancelling the CM’s order. She declared it ‘null and void’ stating that the order contradicted laws and guidelines.

Taking to Twitter on January 5, she wrote “If Puducherry has to be a progressive UT it cannot be retrograde in communications. Hence @CM_Puducherry’s order stands cancelled.” 

Sparring with Speaker

In March 2017, Bedi desisted an order by the Assembly Speaker V Vaithilingam directing the transfer of Commissioner of Puducherry Municipality R. Chandirasekaran, who is widely known to be her close aide. The Speaker had asked for the Commissioner to be placed on a compulsory wait until the Privileges Committee disposed off a case against him by an AIADMK MLA. Lieutenant Governor Bedi, however, refused to abide by this order and even asked the Chief Secretary to ensure that the Commissioner stays in his position. 

Nomination of MLAs

In July 2017, CM Narayanasamy and Bedi were at loggerheads once again, this time over the appointment of three nominated members, 2 of whom were part of the BJP, to the Puducherry Assembly. The nominated members were V Saminathan, chief of BJP Puducherry, Treasurer KG Shankar and educationist S. Selva Ganapathy, a known BJP sympathiser. The list of nominees was decided by Bedi without consulting the Puducherry government and submitted to the Union Government. The law states that the nominees be suggested by the government of the Union Territory. To add salt to the wounds, Bedi then swore in the three nominees on July 4, in the absence of government representatives. 

While Bedi rose to fame during Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement in April 2011, she later switched her loyalties to the BJP and stood for elections as the party’s Chief Ministerial candidate during the Delhi Assembly Elections in 2015. The decision to nominate three BJP members was seen as a deliberate move by the government. Her relationship with CM Narayanasamy soured again with the latter accusing Bedi of acting as BJP’s agent. 

On December 6, 2018, the Supreme Court Bedi’s nomination stating that the Lt Governor had the power to nominate MLAs. The decision came after the Congress government challenged the nominations stating that Bedi never consulted the ruling party.

Making free rice distribution conditional

Bedi issued a diktat in April 2018 declaring that free distribution of rice to villagers in the Union Territory would be stopped if the villages were not open defecation free. This decision was made following her rural management team’s visit to the Mannadipet village in Puducherry for the 155th time. The rice distribution scheme that Bedi referred to benefited half of Puducherry’s population and her decision was labelled as dictatorial and bordering on absurd by the government. 

Apart from these major issues, CM Narayanasamy has, on several occasions accused Bedi of being ‘non-cooperative’ and interfering with the duties of elected representatives. 

Merely hours after issuing this directive, Bedi was forced the withhold her order after she drew flak from different political parties who condemned her way of governance. She said that she withheld the directive to avoid her intentions from being misread

Latest points of contention

With the latest issue, the government has issued a 39-page charter to the Lieutenant Governor and demands that she agrees to at least a few major points mentioned in it. The points include social welfare schemes such as the rice distribution scheme mentioned earlier and the free rice scheme during festivals such as Pongal and Diwali for the SC/ST community where they would also be given saris and dhotis. According to the CM, Bedi had objected to this scheme and said that they be given money instead. The government has also accused her of causing trouble in the long-held government policy of paying 95% of the salary of unaided school teachers. 

Another bone of contention that has surfaced this time is the helmet issue. While CM Narayanasamy wanted the public to be made aware of the rule before its implementation, Bedi insisted on immediate enforcement and even got on to the streets to catch and punish those who did not wear a helmet. 

On Thursday - the 2nd day of the protests, Bedi accused the CM of committing contempt of court by not enforcing the helmet rule. 

“Wearing a helmet is a Supreme Court directive. The Madras High Court has also said that if a person dies without wearing the helmet, non-enforcement of the rule is abetment to crime. The Chief Minister is committing contempt of court here. I am only doing my job,” she said at the ThinkEdu Conclave held by the Indian Express in Chennai. 

Bedi went on to make a personal remark on Chief Minister. “His own wife died in a road accident, I am told.  He himself is a victim and he is getting in the way of people wearing their helmets,” Bedi added.

Rare bonhomie 

Conflicts aside, the duo has had their rare moments of bonhomie when they decided to forge a temporary friendship during the 53rd Kamban Vizha in May last year. Burying the hatchet, Bedi decided to invite CM Narayanasamy to be her translator for the event, where she was delivering a speech in English. The CM promptly obliged and walked up to the podium where she stood. 

When Bedi chuckled and said “I only trust you for the next 10 mins,” he responded with ““I also trust you to a certain extent only.” 

The event was attended by several prominent people including High Court Hyderabad Judge Justice Ramasumbramanian and Sri Lankan State Minister of Education VS Radhakrishnan.

Before Bedi began her speech, she joked that the Chief Minister should only translate what she spoke to which he replied, “That I cannot guarantee,” leaving the audience in splits over the awkward truce between the two. 

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