Breakaway Congress joins hands with BJP in Union Territory of Puducherry

Going by the official statistics of the Central Statistics Office of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, there are reasons for people here to be elated. The Union Territory of Puducherry has notched up top position among States/UTs in the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) growth rate, which stood at 25.06 per cent at current prices as on March 1, 2014. But the static growth in overall infrastructure and deepening crisis in industrial climate do not reflect the sweetness of GSDP credit to Puducherry, which is classified as an ‘urban agglomeration of areas’.

The Union Territory of Puducherry, which is often referred to as ‘Window of France’, thanks to the influence of French culture formed out of four geographically unconnected enclaves of former French India, has 30 Assembly segments — 23 in Puducherrry, five in Karaikal and one each in Mahe and Yanam.

Though agriculture is the important occupation that provides livelihood for majority of population here, the sectoral contribution to its GSDP in recent years reveals that its economy has shifted from agricultural activities to non-agricultural activities: the growth of manufacturing, service and other sectors such as construction and tourism drives the economy.

With a small industrial inheritance of three textile mills, Puducherry now has more than 7500 industries and seven industrial estates. But, the last three years saw the closure of about 10 industries, including three big industrial houses like Suzlon and HCL, causing great concern among the labour segment. Besides market conditions, the withdrawal of tax holiday is also cited as a reason for the industry losing its sheen in Puducherry.

“It is certainly a trying period for industries in Puducherry and there is a need for reintroducing tax holiday and creating infrastructure to bring back the glorious period by rejuvenating the growth of industries,” said K. Amarnath, past chairman, Confederation of Indian Industry, Puducherry.

The Statehood issue, which has been rocking Puducherry politics frequently in the last two decades, and the frequent wrangling between the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Puducherry government on many aspects of governance have emerged as major poll issues in the 2014 Lok Sabha election too. Though the All India N. R. Congress (AINRC), an offshoot of the Congress, joining hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has raised eyebrows in political circles, the Chief Minister, N. Rangasamy, justified his party’s alignment by saying that it was mainly for achieving the long-pending demand of Statehood. The demand is backed by most of the political parties, except the Congress, which is seeking ‘Special Statehood’ status.

The view is that the elected government has been forced to wholly depend on the MHA in New Delhi even for small schemes, as the Centre has greater control over an elected government in the Union Territory of Puducherry. But a section of people, mainly government employees who get salary on par with the Central government staff, still oppose Statehood for Puducherry. They argue that since it is controlled by the MHA, Puducherry will be the natural choice for the Centre to implement its programmes and policies.

The precarious financial situation of the territorial government, which is finding it extremely difficult to implement infrastructural projects and even a few welfare schemes, has also come to the fore as an important election issue. For the government that prepared a budget estimate for about Rs. 5500 crore for 2013-14, the total debt stands at about Rs. 6000 crore. It pays about Rs.500 crore towards interest component alone per year.

The steep decline in tax collection this year, switching over from the Consolidate Fund of India to Public Account of Pondicherry in 2007, reduction in Central government grant, freebies and the unhealthy ratio of employees in government and government undertakings are among the reasons cited for Puducherry’s deepening fiscal crisis.

With respect to infrastructure, though it is well connected with roads from Chennai, the residents express dismay that plans to decongest roads in the Union Territory remain only on paper.

They equally blame the government led by Mr. Rangasamy and Member of Parliament V. Narayasamy for failing to synchronise their efforts to bring development projects to Puducherry.

Though Puducherry will witness a multi-cornered contest, the main fight is between Mr. Narayanasamy, sitting MP of the Congress, and R. Radhakrishnan of AINRC. Unlike many constituencies in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, the Puducherry Lok Sabha seat has been a bastion of the Congress for a long time.

The party had won nine out of 11 times it contested. Congress is still considered stronger than the Dravidian parties in Puducherry, but there is a view that its strength has gone down due to the separate party floated by Mr. Rangasamy. There are dissenting voices in the Congress from a section of supporters of P. Kannan, Rajya Sabha MP, against the re-nomination of Mr. Narayanasamy to run for Parliament this time also.

As far as the AINRC is concerned, the “N.R. Wave,” which swept away the Congress in the 2011 Assembly elections, is missing now. The AINRC faces anti-incumbency also. Though it is part of National Democratic Alliance, it is yet to get the support of Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), which is still insisting that its candidate, R. K. R. Anantharaman, will be in the fray.

The AINRC has nominated former Speaker, R. Radhakrishnan. The AIADMK and the DMK have fielded Omalingam and AMH Nazeem respectively as their candidates. The Communist Party of India (CPI) has fielded former Minister R. Viswanathan.

For Mr. Narayanasamy, who was the Centre’s most visible face in taking on the campaign against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in the neighbouring State, it will be a battle of prestige to retain Puducherry as a Congress bastion.

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