On 2 May, 2021, the election results to the Puducherry Assembly were declared, which saw the N. Rangasamy led- All India N.R. Congress (AINRC) emerge as the party with the most number of seats. The AINRC had fought the election under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) banner along with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). The BJP won 6 seats while the AIADMK could not manage to open its account. The Secular Progressive Alliance, which was constituted of the Indian National Congress (INC), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), could win merely 8 seats together. On 7 May, N. Rangasamy was unanimously elected as the Chief Minister of Puducherry, representing the NDA alliance. R.Siva from the DMK was elected as the Leader of the Opposition.
The Major Takeaways
Rangasamy Back In Power:
The former Congress Chief Minister found himself victorious once again. The NR Congress won 10 out of the 16 seats it had contested. It secured a vote share of 25.85 %. Rangasamy, who had contested from Yanam and Thattanchavady seats, managed to win only one seat. He retained his bastion Thattanchavady by defeating K. Sethu Selvam of the CPI by 5, 456 votes. He got 55.02 % of the total votes in the Thattanchavady constituency.
Gollapalli Srinivas Ashok, an independent candidate, defeated Rangasamy from the Yanam constituency by a margin of 656 votes. This comes as a major shock to Rangasamy as this is only his second electoral defeat (he lost in his electoral debut in 1990 contesting from the Thattanchavady seat). The fact that the 70- year old wily veteran lost to Ashok, a 28- year local newbie, has been highlighted by the critics of Rangasamy. Other AINRC leaders who won are C.Djeacoumar , S. Ramesh, A.K.D Arumugam, K. Lakshminarayan , R. Baskar Datchanamourtty , U.Lakshmikandhan , P Rajavelu, S. Chandra Priyanka and P.R.N. Thirumurugan. Thirumurugan defeated A.V. Subramaniam of the Congress by only 135 votes, which is the lowest margin of victory.
BJP’s Game Plan Succeeds:
The BJP leadership would be proud of the fact that the party could win 6 out of the 9 seats it has contested. The NDA alliance’s campaign was virtually being controlled by the Central BJP leadership. The party had practically compelled the AINRC to let it contest on 9 seats as it believed that it could win most of the seats it was contesting. It must be noted that the BJP, which had contested on all the 30 seats in 2016, saw its candidates losing their deposits in 29 seats. A.M. Krishnamoorthy was the last BJP candidate to be elected to the Assembly in 2001 when he had won the Reddiarpalayam seat. The BJP has managed to increase its vote share from 7.9% in 2016 to 13.66% in 2021. It is interesting to note that a father -son duo got elected from the BJP, a party which has fought many elections on the anti-dynastic politics plank. A. Johnkumar and his son Richard Johnkumar won from Kamrajnagar and Nellithope constituencies respectively. A. Johnkumar had earlier defected from the Congress to the BJP as he was facing a major income tax case. The BJP had brought down the previous government just a few months before the election by poaching several top- level Congress leaders. A. Namassivayam , who had earlier been the backbone of the Congress in the Union Territory(U.T.), had taken with him a large number of Congress office- bearers to the BJP. The former Puducherry Pradesh Congress President (Namassivayam) won the Mannadipet constituency by 2,750 votes. The BJP, which had virtually no presence in the U.T. even a few months back, used its muscle to break the Congress, which was the strongest party in the Assembly, and managed to get a toe-hold on power for the first time.
A Broken Congress:
The Congress could win only 2 out of the 15 seats it had contested. M. Vaithialingam of the Congress defeated V. Swaminathan of the BJP by 5,701 votes to win the Lawspet seat. The only other Congress victor was Ramesh Parambath , who defeated Adv. V.P. Abdul Rahman of the AINRC by 9,744 votes to win the Mahe seat. The party would take heart from the fact that it was able to secure 15.71% of the total votes, which is higher than what the BJP got. The DMK emerged as the biggest party from the alliance, winning 6 out of the 13 seats it had contested. It got 18.51% of the total votes. The CPI and the VCK, which had contested one seat each, failed to make any impact.
The Congress was devastated by the fact that many prominent Congress leaders like former Chief Minister V. Narayanswamy , Malladi Krishna Rao and V.P. Sivakolundhu decided to stay away from the elections. Incidentally, many of the legislators representing the BJP and the AINRC in the new Assembly are former Congressmen. The previous Congress government was brought down by its own share of infighting. Namassivayam, who was expected to be the Chief Minister after the Congress victory in 2016, was forced to settle for the Public Works portfolio. When the BJP arrived seeking his services, he was quick to ditch the Congress which resulted in a complete breakdown of the Congress party structure.
There were various reports of rift between the Congress and the DMK during the seat- sharing talks, which even forced the DMK Chief M.K. Stalin to intervene. The Congress, which was hit by the defection tide in January and February, spent much of its resources in trying to find candidates who would be willing to contest on Congress tickets. Puducherry is a close-knit society where a candidate having any electoral ambition must be familiar with all the families residing in his constituency. The Congress was, in fact, unable to find a candidate for Yanam and was forced to back an independent.
Importance Of Independents:
In total, 6 independent candidates were successful in winning their seats. At least four such independents are known to be close confidantes of Rangasamy. Interestingly, before filing his nomination, one such independent candidate had sought Rangasamy’s blessings at a local temple regularly visited by him. This raised several eyebrows in the BJP camp, forcing Rangasamy to clarify that he had no choice in the matter as the candidate had sought his blessings at a holy place. Rangasamy had bargained for 24 seats so as to accommodate various senior AINRC leaders. His request was summarily rejected by the BJP high command, compelling some AINRC leaders to contest as independents. Rangasamy played a calculative political game as these four independents might be the deciding players in case the government falls into any peril.
Alliance In Danger:
A new problem has emerged in the state. The Puducherry Assembly has 3 Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to be nominated by the Lieutenant Governor besides the 30 elected MLAs, the total number of MLAs being 33. Thus, the simple majority mark is 17. As per a Supreme Court ruling, the nominated MLAs are entitled to vote on no-confidence motions and budgets, which effectively give them the same power as the elected MLAs. The BJP has, with the help of the Lieutenant Governor, installed three of its party members (K. Venkatesan , V.P. Ramalingam and R.B. Ashok Babu) as the nominated MLAs. It now has 9 MLAs in the Assembly, only one less than the AINRC. During the campaigning phase, the BJP had reluctantly announced that AINRC would lead the NDA coalition. However, the BJP had refused to publicly acknowledge Rangasamy’s assertion that he would be the Chief Minister in case of a NDA victory. The impasse regarding portfolio allotment continued for over a month after the election results were declared. It was finally decided that the BJP will have 2 Ministers and the Speaker’s post, while AINRC will have 3 Ministers.
The BJP and the AINRC are now engaged in a tussle regarding the support of the independent MLAs, with both the parties claiming that the majority of the independents support them. Rangasamy has tactfully managed the alliance till now as he does not wish to see his government being brought down. At the same time, he is wary of ceding ground to a rapidly growing BJP in the state. The BJP, which has significant support in only one southern state, aims to showcase Puducherry as a “model state” and hopes to make inroads in Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the future. The BJP Central leadership believes that they could bypass Rangasamy and can run a parallel government with a complicit Lieutenant Governor. Rangasamy, however, is no political novice and cannot be considered a pushover by any stretch of imagination. The DMK-Congress alliance has kept its door open in case Rangasamy wants to shift his loyalty. However, Rangasamy would be careful before taking any such decision in haste as he maybe starved of funds and approvals by the BJP led- Central government which would have a huge impact on his governance.