In Puducherry, the BJP is trying to leverage its position as the ruling party at the Centre
A month after the Congress government in Puducherry was brought down through engineered resignations of its legislators, the Union Territory is preparing for an Assembly election that could transform its political landscape. It is a battle that would primarily test a wounded Congress’s ability to woo the electorate by playing the victim card and the BJP’s strength on the ground. A political non-entity till then, the BJP had only token political representation through three nominated MLAs. Five years ago, 29 of its 30 candidates forfeited their deposit. Now, it is contesting in nine seats in an alliance led by the All India N.R. Congress (16 seats); the AIADMK gets five seats. The Congress has ceded ground to its allies, allotting 13 seats to the DMK and one each to the CPI and the VCK. It is contesting only in 14 of its 15 constituencies — seven fewer than in 2016. In Yanam, the second seat from where AINRC leader and former CM N. Rangasamy is contesting, it has skipped fielding anyone. In an election season where perceptions somewhat influence public reception, the Congress has done itself little good by not fielding former CM V. Narayanasamy. The BJP has gone to town claiming he is scared to face the people.
The battle is essentially between these two alliances. The BJP with its insatiable political appetite is not merely fancying its chances on the strength it draws from the Central government. Irrespective of the outcome, it is in mission mode hoping to make electoral inroads. The manner in which its leaders, parachuted from Karnataka, camped for months to not only wean away Congress and DMK MLAs but also engage with voters through its ‘page pramukhs’, points to its determination. It has allegedly begun directly contacting voters using phone numbers linked to Aadhaar cards, which the Madras High Court has directed the UIDAI to probe. Projecting the erstwhile Congress government as being incapable of delivering on its promises, the BJP is pushing the development agenda. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to make Puducherry the ‘BEST’ — a Business hub, Education hub, Spiritual hub and Tourist hub. Though Mr. Rangasamy has declared himself the CM candidate, the BJP is stubborn that legislators will elect the head of government. Given this political game plan, the Congress cannot hope to win sympathy by merely screaming about the “murder of democracy” and the governance hurdles posed by former Lt. Gov. Kiran Bedi. It will have to work with the DMK, leaving behind the bitterness over conceding more seats, if it wants to earnestly challenge the BJP. For the people, the attraction of the BJP is the access it provides to central funds. But the tenure of Ms. Bedi was not the best advertisement for what the ruling party at the Centre can do.