Resignation of one more Congress MLA, A John Kumar, from Puducherry assembly on Tuesday seems to have pushed the Congress-DMK government below the majority mark in the Union Territory. The ruling coalition and the opposition NR Congress-AIADMK-BJP alliance now have 14 MLAs each in the House that has a current effective strength of 28. 

The latest developments in Puducherry were part and parcel of similar strategies BJP had been applying in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, ahead of the upcoming polls. Like in Tamil Nadu, where BJP managed an alliance and control over the ruling AIADMK alliance within four years time, BJP was the beneficiary in the latest Puducherry crisis too. Two of the four MLAs who resigned from the Puducherry Congress have already joined BJP, including a minister. One more MLA, Kumar, is to join soon. And three nominated MLAs in the assembly represent BJP members, thanks to the former Lt. Governor Kiran Bedi who nominated them. 

Was Kiran Bedi a reason for the latest crisis? 

What had shaken the status quo in Puducherry politics was undoubtedly the entry of Bedi as Lt. Governor. Her role was being largely played out in the past four years as a self-styled cop than a Governor. She was often accused of disrupting the governance process carried out by the elected government. 

While Bedi did not play a direct role in Congress’s crisis, she can be easily held responsible for making the ruling party leaders “tired” and “irritated” with her “policing.” When Bedi challenged the powers of the elected government and often intervened and interfered in every small matter related to the governance, she is also credited for streamlining the administration and making many government operations transparent, spoiling dreams of an established corrupt political system in power whose main task would be retrieving money they invested to purchase and win seats. 

MARKING THE end of the only Congress government in the south, with about three months left for polls, Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy and his Council of Ministers submitted their resignations on Monday to L-G Tamilisai Soundararajan soon after a Motion of Confidence was defeated in the Assembly.

The result of the floor test, which was called four days ago by the L-G, was on expected lines with the ruling Congress-DMK coalition losing majority with a spate of resignations over the last month, including two on Sunday, and reduced to 12 in a 33-member House with a current strength of 26. 

The ruling coalition lost seven MLAs, including five from the Congress and one from DMK who resigned in the past month while another Congress MLA was disqualified in July 2020 for anti-party activities. 

Soon after the Chief Minister finished his speech, government whip R K R Anantharaman raised the issue of voting rights of three nominated legislators belonging to the BJP. He demanded a clarification from the Speaker, triggering a heated argument with the Opposition. Minutes later, Narayanasamy and his MLAs staged a walkout. 

Later, the Chief Minister and MLAs of the ruling alliance left for Raj Nivas where they handed over their resignation letters to Soundararajan. 

Can nominated MLAs vote on a motion of confidence? 

This question puzzled many ahead of Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy’s trust vote. Narayanasamy claimed the nominated MLAs could not vote during the trust vote in the assembly. 

Puducherry is a special case that has been settled in a Supreme Court justice. But before that, a look at history. 

Following a formal treaty signed by India and France, Puducherry (then called Pondicherry), Karaikal, Mahe, and Yanam became part of the Indian Union in 1962. The Jawaharlal Nehru government brought a Constitution Amendment Bill in Parliament (originating from the Union home ministry under Lal Bahadur Shastri) to insert Article 239A in the Constitution. 

The new Article provided for a legislature with fully elected or part elected and part nominated MLAs in a Union Territory as and when Parliament decided. Puducherry got one that had nominated members.

The law came in 1963 — The Union Territories Act. It says Puducherry shall have 30 elected MLAs and up to three nominated legislators, appointed by the central government. 

After the BJP-led central government nominated three party members to Puducherry Assembly, it was challenged in the Madras High Court in 2018. The ground of challenging the nomination was that the Centre did not consult the state government before nominating the MLAs. 

The Madras High Court did not find any illegality in the nomination process. The matter moved to the Supreme Court, which in December 2018, settled two importation questions. 

The three-judge Supreme Court bench decided that under the 1963 law, the Centre was not required to consult the state government for nominating MLAs in Puducherry Assembly. 

The second important ruling was that there was no distinction between the nominated and elected MLAs in Puducherry under the 1963 law. It held that the nominated MLAs had the same right of voting as elected members on all matters including the trust vote, no-confidence motion, and Budget. 

In the background of the 1963 law and its interpretation by the Supreme Court, the three nominated BJP MLAs proved to be the deciding factor in Puducherry for the Narayanasamy government of the Congress-DMK alliance. 

After six resignations since mid-January, the effective strength of the Puducherry Assembly had reduced to 26. The Congress-DMK alliance had 12 MLAs on its side including the Speaker of Puducherry Assembly. Since the Speaker votes only in the instance of a tie, the ruling alliance had only 11 votes in Puducherry Assembly during the trust vote. 

The Opposition, on the other hand, had seven MLAs of the All Indian NR Congress of former Chief Minister N Rangasamy, and four AIADMK members — a total of 11.

It would have been a tie had the nominated BJP MLAs did not have the right to vote as Narayanasamy claimed. The vote of Speaker VP Sivakolundhu would have saved the Narayanasamy government and prevented the loss of yet another state to the Congress.

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