Puducherry Assembly Elections 2016

For AINRC, what goes around comes around

For the All India NR Congress, led by Chief Minister N. Rangasamy, the May 16 Assembly elections in Puducherry is a litmus test.

The ruling party is engaged in largely triangular contests with the Congress-DMK combine and the AIADMK in constituencies across the Union Territory. But for Puducherry’s longest-serving Chief Minister, and the party he carved out from the Congress five years ago, it’s déjà vu in reverse — the sequence of recent events being diametrically opposite to the set of circumstances of the 2011 Assembly elections.

While in the previous election, Mr. Rangasamy rode to power by breaking up the Congress by triggering an exodus of disgruntled elements into the newly formed AINRC, this time around, many of his party men have jumped ship and returned to the Congress or joined the AIADMK.

Also, unlike in 2011, when he could gain sympathy by playing the victim card after being forced to quit as Chief Minister by a cabal of Cabinet colleagues, Mr. Rangasamy now finds some of his own party men speaking the language of the Opposition when they accuse him of authoritarian ways, nepotism and promoting lopsided growth of Puducherry.

Political observers feel that Mr. Rangasamy’s strategy of delaying the AINRC candidates’ list to quell defection as well as to accommodate seat-seekers from rival parties may have backfired this time.

Some key functionaries had quit the party and joined rival camps by the time Mr. Rangasamy revealed the first list on April 27, going into a trance-like state in “consultation” with the spirit of his guru, Appa Paithiyam Swami.

Leading the exits were P. Angalane, party secretary with a hat-trick of triumphs in the reserved constituency of Thirubhuvanai, and N.R. Balan, who both joined the Congress, Vaiyapuri Manikandan, who was considered close to Mr. Rangasamy, and K. Natarajan, who joined the AIADMK.

Another test

The elections will put to test Mr. Rangasamy’s mass appeal outside his pocket boroughs in the city. Though the Chief Minister hails from the electorally decisive Vanniyar community, which makes up roughly 35 per cent of the electorate, these votes could be split by influential rivals from the same caste base such as Puducherry Pradesh Congress Committee president A. Nammasivayam, and parties such as the Pattali Makkal Katchi.

In this election, the AINRC has to overcome the negative vibes of dissident legislators P.M.L. Kalyanasundaram, M. Vaithianathan and P. Karthikeyan, who have taken the field as rebel candidates in their respective constituencies.

These dissidents were part of the group which had threatened the survival of the government a few months ago by proposing an alternative DMK-backed candidate during the elections to the sole Rajya Sabha seat.

What saved the day then for the Rangasamy government was a dramatic eleventh-hour deal with the AIADMK. Though the AIADMK had fallen out with the AINRC after being sidelined from power in 2011, when he cold-shouldered his ally and formed a government with the support of an Independent, the party seized the Rajya Sabha opening to co-opt the AINRC nominee, N. Gokulakrishnan, with the sole objective of shutting out its arch-rival, DMK.

But now the AIADMK has fielded candidates in all 30 seats in a bid to scatter thorns along Mr. Rangasamy’s path to a fourth stint as Chief Minister — twice as a Congress leader and once as a rebel after forming the breakaway AINRC.

The BJP, an ally for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, which was kept waiting inordinately for Mr. Rangasamy’s word on continuing the alliance for the Assembly elections, has decided to go it alone.

Multi-cornered contests

The presence of the People Welfare Front, an umbrella alliance of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, the Left and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, with the collective influence of the constituents potentially adding up to more than the sum of their individual parts, as well as standalone players such as the PMK, sets the stage for a multi-cornered contest in several key constituencies where the size of the electorate is in the 25,000-30,000 range and outcomes hinge on small margins.

The big question now is whether a politically unaligned AINRC can match its 2011 performance when it swept half the seats.

AIADMK general secretary and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, for one, has rubbed it in while campaigning in the city claiming that it was her endorsement that helped Mr. Rangasamy ride to power in 2011.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 3:48:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/puducherry2016/for-ainrc-what-goes-around-comes-around/article8586416.ece

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