At last, the Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy has ended his dharna outside the official residence of Lt. Governor Kiran Bedi. This is a good thing. It doesn’t make a pretty picture when the incumbent Chief Minster along with his entire ministerial team wearing black from head to toe squats on the floor outside the gubernatorial mansion. The LG must have riled him so much as to cause him to undertake this unusual protest.
Given that Bedi has an ingrained personality flaw, may be acquired when she was first feted as the first woman IPS officer. She believes in ‘my way, or highway.’ She has had such problems all though her working life. In this case, the fact that she is a nominee of a rival party might have further aggravated tensions between her and Narayanasamy. It is noteworthy that this is not the first time that the two have engaged in public recriminations.
Early on in her stint in Puducherry, matters had come to a head, forcing the Centre to intervene, directing Bedi to retreat from an open confrontation with the CM. Admittedly, the main source of the trouble lies in the division of powers between the Centre and the Union Territory, leading often to disputes between the elected UT government and the LG. The current dispute seems to have originated with the refusal of the LG to grant approval to a slew of welfare schemes.
Free rice scheme and enhanced scholarships for scheduled caste students, the CM alleged, did not get her approval. Of course, with the Lok Sabha poll nearing, the CM must have conceived new allurements for the voters, while the LG must have diddle daddled on granting approval with the same polls in mind. However, Bedi maintains the differences arose not on account of these welfare schemes, but on the decision to compulsorily enforce the wearing of helmets for the two-wheeler riders.
Narayanasamy was against the compulsory enforcement of the directive. He would like the people to believe that he undertook the much-publicised dharna for getting the LG’s nod for the welfare schemes. As the Administrator of Puducherry, Bedi still has limitations since the Constitution expects her to act on the ‘aid and advice’ of the elected council of ministers in areas which are specifically in the latter’s domain. Conflicts arise when the division of powers is not clearly defined.
Not unlike Delhi, where the Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been at war with the Centre from the very first day after assuming power, similar disputes in Puducherry have drawn little public attention. It is due to, one, Narayanasamy is a seasoned politician and knows how to negotiate the difficult terrain of the State-Centre disputes in a clam manner, two, Puducherry being far away from the seat of the national media it attracts far less public attention than the capital city of India. Besides, Kerjiwal is nothing if not a creature of publicity.
He has often played the victim card after first provoking a fight with the Lt. Governor of Delhi and the Centre. He believes by engaging the Centre in a public dispute he can excuse his non-performance, blaming his failure on multiple fronts on an allegedly obstructionist Centre. The end of the dharna on Monday followed Bedi’s visit to Delhi. Like last time when things had flared up between her and the CM, this time too the Centre had to work behind the scenes to calm things by counseling restraint. Neither party emerged winner from the confrontation.
Notably, even when the CM and the Centre belong to the same party, differences between the Centre and the elected government of a UT have arisen, but invariably these were sorted out amicably through give- and- take. In fifteen years Shiela Dikshit was chief minister of Delhi, she was often at odds with the Congress government at the Centre. Some time the differences did spill into newspapers as well. But never did it lead to an open confrontation as it did in the case of Narayanasmay in Puducherry and Kejriwal in Delhi.
It is a reflection of the breakdown of communication between the ruling party and the Opposition. An element of confrontation between the BJP and other parties arrayed against it has resulted in an ever-present confrontation brewing just below the surface. Ruling party and the Opposition are two wheels of the train that is democracy but when one wheel moves out of alignment, there is always fear of a derailment. The onus to re-rail the system vests with all parties.