Congress government in Puducherry is the second to fall in less than a year

Process avoids provisions of anti-defection statute, allows lawmakers to switch parties

February 22, 2021 08:51 pm | Updated 09:19 pm IST - New Delhi

Puducherry Chief Minister V. Narayanaswamy addresses the House during the floor test, in Puducherry on February 22, 2021.

Puducherry Chief Minister V. Narayanaswamy addresses the House during the floor test, in Puducherry on February 22, 2021.

As the V. Narayanasamy-led government in Puducherry collapsed on the floor of the Assembly on Monday, Congress leaders lashed out at the BJP for “toppling” elected governments, with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot claiming that the saffron party had tried it in his State as well.

The elected government in Puducherry became the second Congress government, in less than a year, to have been dislodged in an identical manner.

In March last year, the Kamal Nath-led government in Madhya Pradesh (M.P.) lost power after 22 MLAs, many of whom were Jyotiraditya Scindia loyalists, resigned from the Assembly. Many of them eventually joined the BJP and have been re-elected in subsequent bypolls.

Reacting to the developments in Puducherry, Mr. Gehlot, in a series of tweets, said this was yet another case of how the BJP was destabilising the Congress governments to grab power through unethical means.

“First, they created problems in running the administration through the Lieutenant Governor and now this has happened,” Mr. Gehlot said, adding, “Luring Congress MLAs has been their modus operandi in all Congress ruled states. We saw this in Karnataka, M.P. & now in #Puducherry. They tried it in Rajasthan but people of Rajasthan taught them a lesson.

In the past few years, open revolt against a chief minister followed by resignation of MLAs has been a common route to bring down State governments while escaping the provisions of the anti-defection law.

The law requires two-third of the lawmakers to quit the parent party in order to legally merge with another party. However, an MLA can “voluntarily” give up the membership of the Assembly.

In 2018, the H.D. Kumarswamy-led Congress-Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) government also collapsed on the floor of the House after 15 rebel MLAs belonging to the Congress and JD-S resigned; many of them subsequently joined the BJP.

“@BJP4India kills democracy again. Using ED, IT & other agencies, spending crores of rupees they have toppled an elected govt. @INCIndia will go to the people, the people of #Puducherry will give a befitting reply in the elections,” tweeted Dinesh Gundu Rao, the All India Congress Committee in-charge of Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Goa.

While a section of the Congress leaders in Delhi believe that the fall of the Puducherry government may help the party with “sympathy” factor and negate anti-incumbency, others believe it to be warning sign for things to come in poll bound Tamil Nadu where the Congress is part of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK)-led alliance.

During the 2017 Assembly elections in Goa and Manipur, the Congress had emerged as the single largest party but the governors had invited the BJP-led alliances in these States.

Beyond Puducherry, the developments are also a warning to the Congress leadership about the problems it faces in the States. Mr. Gehlot’s tweets about Rajasthan are a reminder of his frosty relationship with the former Deputy CM, Sachin Pilot, who had led a rebellion last July. With Mr Pilot now starting mass contact programmes on his own, the Congress' problems are far from over.

In Maharashtra, where the Congress shared an uneasy alliance with Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) as part of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, the appointment of Nana Patole, who resigned as Speaker of the Maharashtra Assembly, had added to the friction between allies as they were not consulted.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan slammed the developments in Puducherry on Monday accusing the BJP of replacing democracy with money and communalism. He also accused Congress legislators of queuing up to switch sides and reducing the party to a commodity.

“What we saw in Puducherry is a business deal between those who are willing to sell and buy democracy. It’s a shameful chapter in Indian democracy! BJP is playing a dangerous game of replacing democracy with money & communalism,” he said in a series of tweets.

Mr. Vijayan added: “When INC reduces itself to a commodity that can be bought by BJP, it is the Left and democratic forces that put forth alternative politics. Puducherry reminds us of the need to strengthen such forces that are unwavering in their defence of democracy, secularism and development.”

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