New Delhi: Kiran Bedi was removed as Lieutenant-Governor of Puducherry on Tuesday after a late-night order from Rashtrapati Bhavan, in what many say is a political move by the BJP to negate rival parties’ primary campaign platform for Assembly elections due in May. The order said President Ram Nath Kovind had directed Telangana Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan to take over till a replacement is named. Ms Bedi’s removal came hours after a fourth member of the ruling Congress resigned from the Assembly, leaving Chief Minister V Narayanasamy’s government in the minority. Shortly before she was removed, Mr Narayanasamy, who had a long-running and public feud with Ms Bedi, told NDTV that one of the MLAs who had resigned had been “harassed… several times” by her.
Ms Bedi’s removal is being widely seen as a political move by the BJP to counter the Congress’ primary campaign strategy, which focuses on allegations that Ms Bedi was scuttling Puducherry’s development at the behest of the centre. The allegations fuelled the feud between Ms Bedi, who was appointed in May 2016, and Mr Narayanasamy.
Sources also said that Kiran Bedi’s removal was one of the conditions put forward by A Namassivayam – one of the two ex-Congress leaders who last month resigned, both as MLAs and from the party, to join the BJP.
Four Congress leaders have resigned so far; a fifth, N Dhanavelou, was disqualified for alleged anti-party activities last year. Mr Namassivayam and E Theeppainjan resigned last month; both have joined the BJP. On Monday Malladi Krishna Rao quit, and today John Kumar resigned. With these, the Congress lost its thin majority in the Assembly.
Malladi Krishna Rao’s move was surprising as he had accompanied the Chief Minister to Delhi last week in yet another push to remove Kiran Bedi as Lieutenant Governor. On Tuesday night the Chief Minister told NDTV: “We met the President because Malladi Krishna Rao had been harassed by Kiran Bedi several times… Kiran Bedi has been interfering in day-to-day administration… she has been trying to create problems.”
Mr Namassivayam’s switch was also a big blow; the former state Congress chief played a big role in consolidating the party’s base in Puducherry. With him, several other leaders and functionaries walked out and crossed over to the BJP, a well-worn script that has played out in several states where defections have brought down governments.
Mr Narayanasamy has remained defiant in the face of these resignations, telling NDTV: Our government is not in a minority.” He said the resignations of Mr Rao and Mr Kumar had not yet been accepted and were still being considered by the Speaker.
The Chief Minister also accused the BJP of planning another “Operation Kamal (lotus)” – the opposition’s name for what they say is the BJP’s strategy of engineering defections and toppling governments – in Puducherry.
Mr Narayanasamy has repeatedly complained of Ms Bedi’s “undemocratic style of functioning”. Last month he sat on dharna outside her office. “This is a not a new demand. Even in 2019 December, we sat in dharna in front of the Raj Bhavan,” he told NDTV then.
Elections are due by May in Puducherry and neighbouring Tamil Nadu, besides Kerala, West Bengal and Assam. The BJP does not expect much from Tamil Nadu and Kerala at this point, but feels it has a better chance in Puducherry, with the Congress weakened.
The Congress won 15 assembly seats in 2016, including that of the Speaker. It took power with support of the DMK and an independent candidate. The opposition AINRC has seven, the AIADMK has four and there are three nominated members of the BJP.