BJP, Congress both Face anti-incumbency in Puducherry

Unemployment has been a major issue in the constituency due to lack of industrial development and closure of several units
One constant problem ruling the minds of almost all the people in the region is the Union Territory's statehood.
One constant problem ruling the minds of almost all the people in the region is the Union Territory's statehood.Photo | Sriram R

PUDUCHERRY: WIth its complex geographical layout and multi-cultural population, spreads across three states, Puducherry has been in the spotlight since the announcement of the Lok Sabha polls - from the dilemma of major political parties in deciding the right candidate acceptable in all four regions of the UT to travels plans of candidates in helicopters and flights. However, the issue of statehood raked up all party leaders, including V Vaithilingam (INC), A Namassivayam (BJP) and G Tamizh Vendan (AIADMK), is heating up.

Referred to as the mini India, Puducherry’s four regions - Puducherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam - are spread across three states, and the cultural and political influences of adjoining states are reflected in the voting pattern. Puducherry and Karaikal lie in Tamil Nadu, Mahe in Kerala and Yanam in Andhra Pradesh.

Even with all the differences, one constant problem ruling the minds of almost all the people in the region is the UT’s statehood. 13 resolutions have been passed in this regard in the assembly. As the elected government will be at the mercy of the union home ministry and the Lt. governor, with all major decisions requiring their approval, the issue gains momentum whenever there are conflicts between the chief minister and Lt. governor or even differences with officials or with the centre, including delay in processing files.

This election is also not different as Congress promises to fulfil the demand if elected. The non-inclusion of Puducherry in the Central Finance Commission (CFC) and the proper devolution of funds has added fuel to the fire. The grants from the Government of India have been reduced to just around 25% and market borrowings have become the order of the day, ever since a separate public account was opened in the Reserve Bank of India. Puducherry’s main revenue comes from tourism and excise.

Demand for establishing a public service commission has been growing louder as the recruitment is managed by UPSC, gazetted posts are also being cornered by people from other states.

Unemployment is a big issue bogging the UT as there is a lack of industrial development with no industrial major establishing a unit and several industries shutting down, and migrating to other states. Professionally qualified youth are moving to other states to find gainful employment. The closure of textile mills and several public sector undertakings have added to the woes.

The drug menace is another issue. Students and youth are not just getting addicted, but it also leading to heinous crimes like the recent sexual assault and murder of a nine-year-old girl. Non-functional ration shops and lack of distribution of free rice and other essential commodities are also key issues.

Congress has won the seat in 11 out of 15 elections and the contest is expected to be primarily between Vaithilingam and Namassivayam. Tamizhvendan is likely to throw some challenges, but not expected to turn the tables.

Vaithilingam has a wealth of political experience and has also served as the chief minister. He has never lost an election in the last 40 years. In the maiden LS election, he contested in 2019, he won by a wide margin by polling double the vote of his nearest rival - Dr Narayanasamy Kesavan of AINRC in the NDA. This time he faces an anti-incumbency factor and a strong BJP contender - A Namassivayam, home minister of Puducherry.

BJP is historically unsuccessful in clinching the Lok Sabha seat. However, BJP, which is in power with AINRC in the UT, is optimistic about its prospects this time. Namassivayam has not lost an election since winning his first in 2001. While Vaithilingam won all his elections as a Congress candidate, Namassivayam won his first election under TMC(M), the next three elections as a Congress candidate and in 2021 as a BJP candidate. Namassivayam is not only popular but also has great clout among the dominant Vanniyar community BJP has allegedly assured that Namassivayam would be given a union ministerial berth if he wins.

On the other hand, Vaithilingam is counting on the support base of INDIA bloc allies, including DMK, CPI, CPM, VCK and AAP among others. His campaign is focussing on employment, particularly establishing a separate public service commission for Puducherry. The party has also announced apprenticeship dole for youths, enhancing MNREGA wages, enhancing pension for women and provision of jobs to retrenched employees among others .

The electoral narrative in Puducherry is set to revolve around contrasting themes. The INDIA bloc is questioning the credibility of the local government for failing to address issues with centre, drug trafficking, rowdyism, lack of industrial development and attempt to privatise Puducherry power distribution, among others. On the other hand, the NDA is showcasing various developmental schemes and projects, pledging more if elected to parliament and ‘non-performance’ of Vaithilingam. The AIADMK on the other hand is questioning the performance of both Congress and BJP and seeking a mandate for the party’s candidate to address the issues of Puducherry.

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