New Delhi: Former top cop Kiran Bedi’s sudden removal as the lieutenant governor of Puducherry Tuesday came as a surprise even to her, sources in her official residence Raj Nivas told ThePrint. Bedi was, at the time, reviewing the Covid-19 vaccination programme in the union territory.
Bedi, India’s first woman IPS officer, posted a farewell message on her Twitter handle Wednesday, expressing gratitude for ‘Team Raj Nivas’, wishing the people of Puducherry a prosperous future and saying “whatever was done was a sacred duty fulfilling my constitutional and moral responsibilities”.
Thank all those who were a part my journey as Lt Governor of Puducherry—
The People of Puducherry and all the Public officials. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/ckvwJ694qq
— Kiran Bedi (@thekiranbedi) February 17, 2021
The tone of the farewell message reflected the fact that Bedi has been at loggerheads with V. Narayanasamy’s Congress government. But sources told ThePrint that her removal was not due to the Congress’ repeated complaints about her interference in administration, but because the BJP and its ally AIADMK were worried that in the upcoming assembly elections, she was turning into the biggest poll issue due to several unpopular decisions.
The Congress, in fact, was planning to capitalise on this unpopularity. Former party chief Rahul Gandhi, who arrived in Puducherry Wednesday, had planned to start a high-decibel attack on Bedi, a former BJP leader who had contested elections in Delhi as the chief ministerial candidate.
Puducherry has a 33-seat assembly, of which 30 are elected and three nominated. But with four resignations and a disqualification, the strength of the House has come down to 28, and Narayanasamy has lost his majority. Now, the government is supported by14 MLAs — 10 from the Congress, three from the DMK and one Independent — while on the opposition side, former CM N. Rangasamy’s NR Congress has seven MLAs, the AIADMK has four while the BJP has three.
Helmets became a big issue
Bedi’s latest move that had unnerved the BJP and AIADMK about their prospects in the upcoming elections was her tough stance on two-wheeler riders and pillions wearing helmets. During a Road Safety Week this month, Bedi seemed to channel her past as the head of the Delhi Traffic Police as she hit the streets to tick off and bring to book those riding without helmets.
The L-G alleged that Narayanasamy’s government was obstructing the enforcement of the law despite orders from the Supreme Court and the Madras High Court, while the CM said he wanted the law to be enforced in a phased manner. But Bedi told the Transport Commissioner that merely imposing a fine was of no use; licences and vehicles must be impounded. This created a backlash among people.
“She directly instructed the Transport Commissioner to impound scooters and seize licences. The elections are two months away and people were enraged due to her former police commissioner-type attitude,” a senior BJP leader from Puducherry told ThePrint.
“At election time, how can you take such strict action? Due to her cop mindset, she was becoming an election issue in Puducherry. We didn’t want a situation where the election became Narayanasamy versus Kiran Bedi.”
Another BJP leader said the Congress was planning its campaign around Bedi “seizing” power from an elected government. “They were planning to project the L-G as not people-friendly, and someone who was constraining the CM to take political decisions. It was almost like she was leading the BJP from the Raj Nivas and making local leaders insignificant,” this leader said.
“Her overreach was affecting the AIADMK-BJP poll prospects. We even complained about her conduct to Home Minister Amit Shah, as did AIADMK people. We have to fight elections here, not her,” the second leader added.
Bedi’s tussles with Narayanasamy
Just last week, Narayanasamy had approached President Ram Nath Kovind with a dossier of documents alleging Bedi violated constitutional provisions and rules, intruding into the role of the chief minister and the elected government. Their tussle began soon after the Congress-DMK alliance won the May 2016 election and Bedi was appointed L-G later that month, and has had many flashpoints since then.
The first major tussle between Bedi and the CM came in 2017 when she appointed two BJP members to the assembly as part of the L-G’s nominated quota of three. Then, they were at loggerheads again when Bedi cancelled the Puducherry government’s appointment of retired officials as election commissioners to hold local body polls. This is why these polls haven’t been held in Puducherry since 2011.
Then came a confrontation on the government’s scheme to distribute free rice and sarees on the occasion of Pongal — Bedi objected and asked for money to be transferred to people’s accounts.
The Congress, in 2019, even filed a petition with the Madras High Court, which told the L-G to abstain from interfering in the day-to-day functioning of the elected government.
L-G needed to be ‘mature politician with Tamil connect’
A central BJP leader hailing from south India, who did not wish to be named, said at a time when Narayansamy is losing MLAs, if his government were to fall, Bedi’s continuance as L-G wouldn’t have sent a good political message.
“The need of the hour was a mature political person in place of Bedi, who has a connect with Tamil-speaking people,” this leader said.
BJP’s leaders in Puducherry echoed this thought, saying the L-G needed to be someone familiar with Tamil culture who would see things from the prism of politics, not rules.
This reflects in the choice of Telangana Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan being given additional charge as L-G of Puducherry — she’s a former Tamil Nadu BJP president and is familiar with the neighbouring union territory as well.
Puducherry BJP president and MLA V. Saminathan told ThePrint: “We welcome Tamilisai Soundararajan as the new L-G because she knows Tamil culture, is a mature politician and will understand issues Puducherry is facing today.”