Does BJP’s road to Tamil Nadu go through Puducherry?

It's Congress versus BJP in the Union Territory

puducherry-bjp-Sasthaa Puducherry BJP candidate A. Namassivayam. Seen with him is Puducherry CM N. Rangaswamy | R.G. Sasthaa

Tucked in the scenic East Coast Road 150 kilometres north of Chennai, the Union Territory of Puducherry was up in arms demanding justice for the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl. Though close to Tamil Nadu geographically and linguistically, the Union Territory had alway differed in ideas, ideologies and polity.

The Union Territory will witness a straight fight between the two national parties - BJP and Congress. While BJP has nominated A. Namassivayam, a Congress turncoat and a minister in N. Rangasamy's cabinet, sitting MP V. Vaithilingam will seek renomination from the Congress ticket. Vaithilingam in 2019 got over 50 per cent of the votes and won by a huge margin. The ruling All India N. Rangasamy Congress (AINRC), led by CM Rangasamy is supporting Namassivayam who will contest in the lotus symbol.

It is for the first time that the two national parties will face each other in the Union Territory. Over the years, there have been many contenders. The fight is between the BJP and the Congress. But AINRC, which is in alliance with the BJP, and the DMK, which is part of the Congress-led INDIA bloc will have a huge say in the election.

Who is Namassivayam?

Hailing from the Mannadipet constituency, Namassivayam wields a considerable clout in his Vanniyar community in Puducherry, and is a relative of Rangasamy. In 2016, as the Congress committee president in Puducherry, Namassivayam stitched the Congress-DMK alliance to ensure that the Congress comes back to power. A turncoat, who began his political career with the DMK and then switched to the Congress to become a key player in the national party, jumped to the BJP in 2021, months before the assembly polls. His exit from the Congress in Puducherry snowballed into several body blows to the Congress. The entire Congress infrastructure in Puducherry crumbled. With an engineering background, the 55-year old Namassivayam is BJP’s sole hope in Puducherry.

Who is Vaithilingam?

Sitting MP and a two-time chief minister, Vaithilinagam is a staunch Congress loyalist with a political career spanning over five decades. In 2021, when the Narayansamy government fell, Vaithilingam was the assembly speaker. A politician who started his political career as an office bearer of the youth Congress, Vaithialingam hails from the popular Reddiar community in Puducherry. In 2019, he won the Lok Sabha polls by securing 3.25 lakh votes as against AINRC’s K. Anarayanasamy who got 1.5 lakh votes.

The fight for Puducherry and BJP’s entry

While the DMK and the AIADMK fought the seat till 2000s, the emergence of PMK in Puducherry saw a change in the polity. Rangasamy exit from Congress to launch his own party brought in further changes in the Union Territory’s political landscape. The Congress always had an edge there, while the BJP was a minor player. In 2004, BJP’s Lalitha Kumaramangalam secured 1.72 lakh votes but lost to PMK’s M. Ramadoss, who got 2.41 lakh votes. In 2009, BJP’s candidate M. Visweswaran finished fifth and lost the deposit with just 13,442 votes.

However, since 2016, particularly after the appointment of Kiran Bedi as the Lieutenant Governor (LG), Puducherry began witnessing changes. The V. Narayanasamy-led Congress government faced huge backlash, with Bedi at the helm of affairs. Three members were nominated to the assembly by the LG and were given voting rights which never existed in the history of Puducherry. The political fight of LG nominating the MLAs and giving them voting rights went to court, which ruled in favour of Bedi. Following this, the Puducherry unit president Swaminathan opened the BJP’s account in the assembly. Subsequently, Bedi was replaced by the party’s all-time loyalist Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan. She was given the additional charge along with Telangana. Nominating Tamilisai was a clear political move and not an administrative one to reform Puducherry. And then, the Narayanasamy government fell. The second-in-command in his cabinet - Namassivayam - switched sides to the BJP. This helped the BJP test waters in the Union Territory in 2021.

BJP renewed its alliance with AINRC and ensured that a coalition government was in place. Rangasamy could not be in terms with the BJP for over two months. While he was sworn in as the chief minister in May 2021, immediately after the election, it took two months for the cabinet to be in place. The BJP did not agree for any portfolio less than the home minister.

And, in 2024 again, even before the poll bugle was sounded by the political parties across India, the BJP appointed its trusted Nirmal Kumar Surana as the incharge for Puducherry. In 2021, it was Surana who ensured the realignment of MLAs in the Union Territory and got BJP to power in alliance with AINRC. It was decided in the beginning of 2024 itself that the BJP will contest the lone seat and take it forward to 2026 assembly polls.

The poll issues in Puducherry

While the Congress will focus on the poor-centric policies of the ruling AINRC-BJP combine, the BJP is trying to tap the anti-incumbency against Vaithilingam. “We will talk about the BJP trying to divide people in the name of religion. Women safety, law and order, poor excise policy, mushrooming of pubs and rest bars, availability of drugs are the major issues here,”Vaithilingam told THE WEEK.

The rape and murder of a nine-year old girl Aarthi had turned to be a huge issue in Puducherry, exposing the loopholes in the AINRC-BJP government, thus paving way for the Congress to use women safety as a poll plank.

However, Surana has a different point of view. “We have a good chance of winning in Puducherry. People believe that we can bring all the central government projects to Puducherry. Like any other Union Territory, Puducherry should get the maximum benefits,” he told THE WEEK.

But, BJP’s stand of not considering statehood for Puducherry might embarrass the saffron party as it goes to meet the people. In fact, the DMK had promised statehood for Puducherry in its election manifesto. Also, the confusion in the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme to give ration through the PDS shops has also turned into a huge embarrassment for the ruling combine, as the Centre has not released ample funds for the scheme.

“If Namassivayam wins and goes to Delhi as the MP, the BJP will capture all the 30 MLA seats. Their ultimate aim is to trample the Rangasamy Congress and get to power,” said an associate of Rangasamy, who preferred to remain anonymous.

The BJP believes that their road to power in Tamil Nadu is via Puducherry. Though the AINRC has no regrets in sacrificing the seat for the BJP, Rangasamy and his Appa Paithiyasamy - the god he believes - will have to give way for the BJP in Puducherry in 2026.

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