As a toppling exercise of a government, it was a relatively tame affair. No herding of legislators to resorts, no dramatic court battles, no evident horse-trading and not even bedlam in the assembly. But with the resignation of its beleaguered Chief Minister in Puducherry, V Narayanasamy, after failing a floor test on February 22, the Congress lost its last bastion in south India.
The BJP, widely seen as the brain behind the toppling exercise, had been planning this move for quite a while. Yet, as MLA-after-MLA resigned from the assembly, the Congress appeared paralysed, unable to save its government.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was in Puducherry last week and the time he spent in addressing students and fisherfolk could perhaps have been better utilised in trying to save what was once a Congress stronghold.
With assembly elections around the corner, it is possible to argue that Narayanasamy’s loss is not as great as it may have been had he been toppled earlier. But it does appear that the BJP has a plan for Puducherry, and removing Narayanasamy was an important part of it.
The saffron party is a minor player in Puducherry in terms of vote share, and its three MLA's are all nominated members, not elected ones. But a vote share in the low single digits did little to deter the BJP from launching a raid on the Congress.
A few weeks ago, A Namassivayam, the former PWD minister, switched sides and joined the BJP. Around the same time another MLA, Deepanjan, resigned from the House and joined the BJP. If those jolts were not enough, on February 15, veteran Congressman and MLA since 1996, Malladi Krishna Rao resigned his MLA post.
Rao had warned about quitting, and even at that time the Congress High Command could have tried to save the situation. But little was done. While the BJP undoubtedly was making efforts to wean legislators away, the sight of Congress veterans abandoning ship with an election nearby told a story of the extent of crisis in the grand old party.
Problems have brewing in the Congress since 2016, or even before. Narayanasamy did not contest the assembly elections in 2016, and was made chief minister once the Cognress-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) alliance won the polls. Till then, Namassivayam had been widely expected to be the chief minister. So, from the day he took office, Narayanasamy had to contend with factionalism in the party.
The Centre also stymied his every move through former Lieutenant-Governor Kiran Bedi who was a thorn in the flesh of the UT government for over four years. Things between Bedi and the Narayanasamy government got so bad that the CM even sat on a fast and later met the President demanding her ouster.
When the Centre suddenly obliged last fortnight by sacking Bedi, it was clear that they had a plan. As legislators quit in droves that plan played out well. Tamilisai Soundararajan, the Governor of Telangana, who was given additional charge as L-G of Puducherry, lost no time in ordering a floor test for Narayanasamy to prove his majority. It was by then clear that the game was up. The embattled Chief Minister made an impassioned speech in the House and then left the assembly without facing the vote. He then met the L-G, and resigned.
What happens now? Does the Congress get sympathy from this entire episode? Can those who have switched sides to the BJP help the party cobble together a coalition government after the elections?
The BJP in Puducherry is in alliance with former Chief Minister N Rangaswamy's All India NR Congress Party and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Rangaswamy is a former Congressman and was the party's CM not too long ago.
As if the present crisis was not enough for it, the relationship between the Congress and its alliance partner DMK has strained in Puducherry. In January, DMK leader, Lok Sabha member and former Union minister S Jagathrakshakan spoke about how the DMK was ready to contest all the seats and added that he was ready to lead the party to victory. This set off a buzz that the DMK was planning to dump the Congress in Puducherry. Since then, DMK party chief MK Stalin has cooled tempers with an announcement that the alliance would continue — but after the fall of the government, this too could be up in the air.
Puducherry faces an interesting election. Margins are often razor thin in the polls and many of the MLA’s being wooed by BJP have significant clout in their constituencies to win, especially with the alliance. The BJP intends to be part of a coalition government in Puducherry, and sees being in office in the Union Territory as a preliminary step to making deeper inroads into neighbouring Tamil Nadu.
At the moment the BJP’s plans seem to be on track.