Statehood without outlying regions unacceptable; have not surrendered to the BJP, it is about give-and-take: Puducherry CM

On the issue of Statehood, he says maintaining cordiality with the centre and following a conciliatory approach are the best means to achieve it.
Chief Minister of Puducherry N Rangasamy
Chief Minister of Puducherry N RangasamyPhoto | Express

Chief Minister of Puducherry N Rangasamy who is leading the NDA campaign for Puducherry BJP candidate A Namassivayam talks to Debjani Dutta about elections, the issues and the party’s alliance with BJP. On the issue of Statehood, he says maintaining cordiality with the centre and following a conciliatory approach are the best means to achieve it instead of taking to protests.

The BJP has never won a Lok Sabha election in Puducherry. This time they hope to win in alliance with you. How do you see the prospects of A Namassivayam?

Very bright. Our NDA alliance is strong, time-tested and backed by people’s mandate. We secured 44.1% of the votes compared to 38.3% by the opposition in the Assembly election. Now, with the successful implementation of various Central and State schemes, old and new, and recruitments in the Government sector, people will overwhelmingly support us.

The contentious and long-pending issues of waiving legacy loans, the inclusion of Puducherry in the Central Finance Commission (CFC), and the setting up of a Public Service Commission(PSC), which were given as assurances in previous elections have gone unfulfilled so far. 

The Center should have waived the legacy loans in 2007 when we were compelled to open a separate Public Account in RBI by the centre, similar to Goa. V. Narayanasamy, who was the Minister of State in PMO, did not give attention to the issue. Since then, all requests have gone in vain but we continue to pursue it.

We are pursuing Puducherry’s inclusion in CFC with all sincerity. We even pointed out the disparity in the definition of the state between the UT Act of 1963 and the GST Act of 2017 and requested a fair consideration.

Establishing a PSC for a Union Territory requires legal sanction by the Centre. Instead, we are working on an arrangement, specifically for recruitments in Group B & C posts (non-gazetted ), which is a viable proposition.

The general feeling is that you are not very keen on Statehood for Puducherry. There is an accusation that you have not taken concrete steps to secure statehood either by formulating a proposal or by taking an all-party delegation to meet the Prime Minister. People are citing the united struggle by Ladakh, leading to the centre holding talks with them. Do you think statehood cannot be realised as the BJP govt at the centre has refused to grant it?

I have been raising this issue on every platform and in every meeting I have with the Delhi leaders. It was the first issue I raised with the PM after assuming office. It was followed up with a resolution in the Assembly. Do these steps not attest to my sincerity?

It is wrong to say that the BJP government has refused to grant Statehood. It only stated that there is no proposal at present. I stress the word “at present”. The matter was in fact given positive consideration only when the BJP was at the helm.

You cite the struggle by the Ladakh people. Taking the issues to the streets, in my opinion, will only invite Centre’s wrath. Instead, I hope the cordial relationship and conciliatory approach with the Center would be the best means. “Strike the iron when it is hot” – goes the proverb. I will strike at an opportune moment.

As per the Constitutional provisions, there is a view that the Puducherry region alone can be considered for statehood. Would statehood be acceptable to you without the regions of Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam?

We are seeking statehood with all four regions together and resolutions regarding the same have been adopted in the Assembly. We will accept statehood only with all four regions.

Unemployment has been a major issue in Puducherry. Neither any major industry has set foot in the last three years of your tenure nor the much-touted IT park has materialised. On the contrary, three textile mills have been shut. What plans do you have for generating employment?

In sharp contrast to the previous government, we could fill the 2670 posts based on sheer merit with age relaxed by two years. More than 7000 government posts will be filled up in the coming months.

We are also exploring many avenues to bring one or two major industries. Discussions with industrialists are on. We are working on establishing an industrial park in 800 acres at Sedarapet. In addition, we recently had a discussion with IIT Madras for setting up an IT research park in 200 acres at Sedarapet which will pave the way for generating self-employment for 25,000 people.

Tourism has been the key focus for generating revenue. But in the last few years, the Air and rail connectivity has been at its lowest ebb. Flight services have been shut down. No new trains have been introduced.

We are requesting the Centre to meet the entire cost of land acquisition for the expansion of the Airport runway because of our financial constraints. The Airport Authority of India has identified Air Safa Private Limited for resuming flights. Air connectivity will be resumed soon.

There is a perception that your alliance with the BJP has been detrimental to Puducherry. The move to privatise power distribution, the introduction of the National Education Policy (NEP), and the shift from providing free rice to cash through (DBT) have attracted criticism from many.

Many schemes you listed out as “detrimental,” like the DBT, were conceived by the Congress Government.

If any clauses in the NEP are detrimental, we will give serious thought before implementation. We have not taken a final decision on the privatization of electricity. It is pending before the High Court.

Unfortunately, disgruntled political parties are trying to create a fear psychosis among farmers that free electricity will be discontinued. I assure you that it will continue as long as I am here and the interests of consumers and employees will be protected at any cost. I also have other plans to ease the burden of household electricity consumption.

Your government has been under the sword on the issue of drugs and the opening of resto bars

The drug menace is a pan-India problem with global dimensions. We are taking every possible step to arrest the drug peddlers and save innocent boys and youths. I am confident that with the new employment opportunities we are trying to generate the youth can be diverted from the path of crime.

You know that tourism is a major source of revenue. The resto bars have become common and are there everywhere, including Tamilnadu. They have come up in Puducherry recently. With our own experience and public feedback, their negative features will be restricted, rectified or even weeded out totally if it goes against the public interest.

You have now given the assurance that you will reopen ration shops after it became an election issue even though they could not be opened in the last three years of your tenure. How do you plan to reopen?

Now that the demand for free rice has become vociferous, I am confident of convincing the higher-ups and reopening the ration shops to distribute rice instead of cash. However, some are content with receiving cash while the majority want rice. We will identify the beneficiaries requiring rice and supply it.

It is alleged that you have surrendered to the BJP and they are arm-twisting you to get their policies implemented and their interests protected. First, the BJP grabbed the nominated MLAs, then the Rajya Sabha seat and now the Lok Sabha seat. This is despite your party having more strength in the Puducherry Assembly

Thank you for complimenting us as the stronger party, but remember that we are an alliance partner. Any alliance can sail smoothly only by a give-and-take policy. The charge of arm-twisting is a falsehood created by vested interests to spoil the cordiality between us. 

Whatever we have given to the BJP is out of our own volition and in the interest of the state and its people. So please don’t call it “surrender”. This is nothing compared to the horrible time I had as Chief Minister of the Congress Government. When I headed the NR Congress Government in 2011, the Congress government at the Center did not even allow me to appoint nominated MLAs for two years. Only after the BJP government assumed charge at the centre, the MLAs could be nominated. If we have given something we are sure to gain more. It is quid pro quo. You will see the proof. Please wait.

What is your take on the electoral bonds and the BJP topping the list? What are your views on CAA?

The Electoral bonds scheme was introduced with the good intention of stopping the flow of black money to political parties. From that perspective, I think it served its purpose. But regarding the other negative features, as pointed out by the Supreme Court, I feel every political party should follow ethics in collecting funds. As far as my party is concerned, we have never received donations of any kind from anybody. 

Regarding CAA, as the Chief Minister of Puducherry, I reiterate that the people's interests are of paramount importance to me. As far as I understand, no citizen of Puducherry will be affected by CAA. Even if one person gets affected, I will be the first to protect and protest.

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