India's Puducherry government falls, caught in crossfire of national Congress v BJP battles

Puducherry's government has been teetering on the edge after six legislators resigned over the past month.
Puducherry's government has been teetering on the edge after six legislators resigned over the past month.PHOTO: AFP

BANGALORE - The Indian National Congress-led coalition in Puducherry lost a trust vote in the assembly on Monday (Feb 22), leaving the southern Indian union territory without a government.

A former French territory also known as Pondicherry, the beachy tourist destination has a population of 242,000 and was one of the few bastions of power left to the struggling grand old Congress party in India.

Puducherry's government, an alliance of the Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, has been teetering on the edge after six legislators resigned over the past month, its strength plummeting to 12 members in the 33-member assembly. The Puducherry assembly has 30 elected members, with the central government nominating an additional three.

On Monday, Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy was unable to prove a majority on the assembly floor and delivered an agitated resignation speech.

Mr Narayanasamy blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi for "plotting" with Puducherry's opposition leaders to destabilise the government.

One of the legislators who quit has joined the BJP. All three nominated members in the assembly are BJP functionaries. Puducherry lieutenant governor Tamilisai Soundararajan who was appointed on Feb 16 and asked the chief minister to prove a majority in the assembly, was Tamil Nadu's BJP state unit president until September 2019.

Experts see Puducherry's crisis as an extension of the national political tug of war between the ruling BJP and the Congress party that leads the opposition in Parliament. During its rule at the centre, the Congress too has been blamed for using its governors to topple state governments and usurp more power.

In a Feb 8 speech in Parliament, Prime Minister Modi said his party dreamt of a "Congress-mukt Bharat"- an India free of the Congress party. He is due to visit Puducherry on Feb 25 to inaugurate some roads and a port.