Puducherry Assembly elections | A keen fight on the cards in Union Territory

Even for a place known for the unpredictable nature of its politics, the run-up to the April 6 Assembly election in Puducherry has already produced a fair share of fast-paced twists and turns — from the removal of a Lt. Governor, a series of defections, the collapse of the Congress-DMK government in a failed trust vote and the imposition of President’s rule.

As they seek out the middle ground over the allocation of seats, both the Congress-DMK-Left front and the rival AINRC-BJP-AIADMK alliance are facing different sets of problems, some on the surface and the others simmering.

Following the defection of several of its influential leaders, the Congress finds itself with fewer bargaining chips than it usually wields in one of its last bastions as it pursues seat-sharing discussions with its ally DMK. The BJP’s refusal to declare a chief ministerial candidate at this stage has rankled the AINRC, which sees party founder N. Rangasamy as the natural choice.

According to sources, the Congress is facing a demand for a 50:50 seat-sharing formula from the DMK, while having to accommodate requests for seats from the other allies: the CPI(M), the CPI and the VCK. After a couple of preliminary rounds held in Puducherry, the talks have moved to Chennai, and a final formula is expected to be reached soon. In the 2016 election, the Congress contested in 21 seats and won 15, while the DMK bagged two of the nine seats it contested in. “We are optimistic that the urgency of defeating the BJP will override whatever differences there are in the sharing of seats,” said a leader in the Congress-led Secular Progressive Democratic Alliance. “The importance of this election cannot be overstated. This is a fight for retaining the identity of Puducherry,” he said.

Meanwhile, after much dilly-dallying, Mr. Rangasamy, a former Chief Minister, put a lid on speculation that the AINRC would go it alone, by taking part in a joint press conference on Tuesday with BJP and AIADMK leaders, where it was announced that he would indeed head the NDA. Significantly, the agreement was formalised a couple of days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah called up Mr. Rangasamy.

Nirmal Kumar Surana, BJP in-charge of the Union Territory, said an agreement had been reached and under it, the AINRC would contest in 16 seats and the remaining 14 would be shared by the BJP and the AIADMK. No seat-sharing talks were held with the other ally, PMK, at this point, it was disclosed.

However, a key element missing from the agreement was the NDA’s chief ministerial candidate. On this, Mr. Surana would only say it was something to be decided after the results. “The alliance will be led by Mr. Rangasamy. We will face the election together and the post of Chief Minister will be decided later,” he said.

In large part, the BJP’s reluctance to commit itself to a chief ministerial candidate could be to avoid ruffling the feathers of A. Namassivayam, second-in-command in the V. Narayanasamy government, who left the Congress to join the BJP in January. In fact, Mr. Namassivayam had been tipped as a contender for the post even in 2016, but the Congress leadership chose Mr. Narayanasamy.

Within hours of the NDA agreement, the issue of the chief ministerial candidature was stoked again. An emergency meeting of the AINRC executive committee declared Mr. Rangasamy the candidate for Chief Minister if the NDA came to power. “The NDA’s decision to appoint Mr. Rangasamy as the head of the alliance has paved the way for his occupying the post of Chief Minister for the fourth time,” said a resolution adopted at the meeting.

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 10:17:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/puducherry-assembly/a-keen-fight-on-the-cards-in-union-territory/article34040446.ece

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