In Puducherry, former Chief Minister N. Rangasamy's opposition camp stands in the way of the ruling party's bid to win a third term, says RAJESH B. NAIR
Union Territories have two defining political characteristics, sometimes one in conflict with the other. Heavily dependent as they are on Central allocations, UTs tend to favour national parties that stand a greater chance of coming to power at the Centre. But as the constituencies are small in size and voters are only in the thousands, local factors and candidate profiles can swing the election one way or the other.
No wonder then, politics in Puducherry has little co-relation with the politics of neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Switching party loyalties is quite common, and defectors have often been rewarded by voters. Some have even become Chief Ministers representing different parties; many others have become Ministers by shifting sides regularly.
Puducherry, enclaves of which are spread in the States of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, is considered a stronghold of the Congress. But here elections are not won only on the basis of the strength of the parties — as voters in these segments range between a mere 23,000 and 30,000, what matters more is the individual strength of the candidate, his popularity, and his ability to reach out to every nook and corner of the constituency.
With the UT going to the polls on April 13 to constitute a 30-member Legislative Assembly, the ruling Congress is aiming to return to power for a third consecutive term, a rare feat for the party in the South during recent times. The stakes are high as it is facing the electorate immediately after a revolt within the party, orchestrated by two-time Chief Minister N. Rangasamy, who is popular for distributing freebies and for his accessibility. The battle is going to be between the Congress and N.R. Congress, the party floated by Mr. Rangasamy.
While the Congress is seeking votes for the successful completion of several infrastructure projects, resurrecting the economy and improving law and order during the two-and-a-half year tenure of V. Vaithilingam as Chief Minister, the N.R. Congress argues that the schemes were initiated by Mr. Rangasamy during his term as Chief Minister. The alliance partners of the N.R. Congress are highlighting the price rise, the 2G scam and other corruption charges against the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre.
Not the first time
The two parties will lock horns in 12 Assembly segments in the Puducherry and Karaikal regions. This is not the first time the Congress faces a splinter group of the party in an Assembly election. In 1996 and 2006, its main opponent was the outfits formed by the formidable P. Kannan, who merged his splinter group with the parent party before the 2009 Lok Sabha election.
In 1996, Mr. Kannan's Tamil Manila Congress aligned with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Communist Party of India to form the government, while the Congress-DMK combine emerged victorious in the 2006 polls. Interestingly, in 2001, the Congress contested alone and bagged 11 seats. The party entered into an understanding with Mr. Kannan's Puducherry Makkal Congress, which had four seats, to form the government.
The ruling party's alliance with the DMK, PMK and VCK will add to its advantage. After the Congress, it is the DMK that has a sizeable traditional vote share. The presence of the PMK and VCK, representing the Vanniyars and the Scheduled Castes, is likely to work in the alliance's favour.
The opposition camp led by the N.R. Congress — which is contesting 17 seats in alliance with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Communist Party of India and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam of actor Vijayakant — will ride on the popularity of Mr. Rangasamy. Being a Vanniyar himself will help counter the Congress' alliance with the PMK.
The party, formed with the sole objective of providing an alternative to the Congress, has managed to get a former Minister and two sitting and nominated MLAs of the Congress, PMK and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam into its fold.
Popularity and votes
Mr. Rangasamy, who has been projected as the Chief Ministerial candidate of the front, is contesting from two seats. The success of the alliance depends on whether the popularity of the former Chief Minister can be converted into votes. The AIADMK voter strength, which saw a decline after 1977 following its support for the merger of the UT with Tamil Nadu, is now confined to a few constituencies.
The CPI has fielded its local unit secretary against Mr. Vaithilingam from Kamaraj Nagar constituency. Mr. Vaithilingam shifted to the constituency after Nettapakkam, which he represented consecutively for six elections, was converted into a reserved segment.
Mr. Vijayakant's party is also likely to play a crucial role. In the Lok Sabha polls, DMDK candidates polled more than 2,000 votes in eight constituencies and got more than 1,000 votes in the remaining 22 Assembly segments. Taking into account the electoral size of constituencies and margin of victory of the candidates in the past, the DMDK votes could swing the results towards the alliance candidates and upset the Congress camp. However, much depends on whether they can transfer the votes they polled, when fighting alone in the Lok Sabha election, to the current alliance.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has fielded a candidate in a constituency where representatives of the N.R. Congress and the Congress are in the fray, and announced its decision to campaign against the Congress in other constituencies.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has put up candidates in all constituencies. Though the party made it once to the Assembly in the 2001 election, the MLA switched to the AIADMK in the following elections. Several Independents too are in the fray.
No single party has ever crossed the magic figure of 16 seats since 1964. Independents have always played a significant role in the UT, which has seen four Chief Ministers in the last two Legislative Assemblies.