Kiran Bedi Sacked as BJP Chooses ‘Team Player’ Over ‘Bookkeeper’
Kiran Bedi ‘played by the rules’ and was too ‘unilateral’ to the BJP’s taste. A ‘liability’ before the elections.
On the evening of 16 February, Kiran Bedi, Lieutenant Governor (L-G) of Puducherry, attended a telephonic briefing from health officials on COVID-19 vaccination strategy. In the virtual meeting, Bedi was her usual self – curt to subordinate officers, even asking them to report back to her with “a timetable” for the vaccine drive.
Nothing seemed amiss till the President of India issued an order recalling her from office, late on Tuesday night. Telangana Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan was given the additional charge of L-G Puducherry.
But what led to Bedi’s sudden recall?
While the ruling Congress government claims that Bedi was removed because of their constant campaign against her, political stakeholders of Puducherry say that her time was up as the BJP perceives her as the ‘least suited L-G for the last leg of the race’ that leads up to the Assembly elections scheduled for April this year.
“She plays by the book and is unilateral. That is how she made the functioning of the ruling government a living nightmare for so long. Now, with the Assembly elections coming up, the BJP does not need a bookkeeper and an authoritarian chief at the helm. They need someone who can play with rules,” said a senior Congress leader in the V Narayanasamy government, on condition of anonymity.
In Puducherry, the Congress with 14 MLAs, the DMK with 3 MLAs, and an Independent MLA had formed the government in 2016. In the Opposition were the NR Congress with seven MLAs and the AIADMK with four MLAs.
Bedi as L-G then nominated three members of the BJP to the House, increasing its strength from 30 to 33 members.
Now, with four MLAs of the Congress resigning from the party, both the ruling alliance and the Opposition have 14 MLAs each. Narayanasamy has, however, expressed confidence that he will prove majority in the House.
What Kiran Bedi Did for the BJP
In a country where ruling governments often use the constitutional post of the governor to do their bidding, the BJP’s nomination of Bedi to the L-G post did rake in some returns for the party.
“She had refused to sign off on several files because she did not want the government to bank on welfare measures. The Union Territory’s welfare funding was severely affected during the last four years,” a source in the DMK told The Quint. Bedi also actively promulgated new laws without the approval of the ruling government.
“Bedi was instrumental in imposing Rs 1,000 fine on motorists who were found not wearing helmets. The steep penalty had evoked public ire and the government had to intervene. The penalty was shelved in January.”A political observer said
Bedi’s actions not only inconvenienced the government, but also failed to capture public support. “People of Puducherry mostly looked at her as an outsider,” a Tamil Nadu-based journalist told The Quint.
Adding to the mix is the Tamil sentiment in the state which, too, worked against her.
“Tamilisai Soundararajan is a Tamil woman. She is from the Nadar caste and she is amicable when compared to Bedi,” the Tamil Nadu-based journalist said.
Soundararajan would only be an “asset” for the BJP whereas Bedi a “liability,” he added.
CM Narayanasamy capitalised on the public dissatisfaction against Bedi by portraying her as the only reason for his government’s shortcomings. After staging several protests against Bedi, on 10 February, Narayanasamy even wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind, urging him to recall her. The chief minister also met the President to submit his petition.
A ‘Team Player’ to Oversee No-Confidence Motion
The reason for Bedi’s removal, however, has more to do with her personality than with the Congress’ battles with her. Her style of functioning was “so unilateral and authoritarian” that even the BJP did not trust her to “follow instructions” anymore, the senior Congress leader said.
If Narayanasamy fails to prove majority, the L-G may have to allow the Opposition to form the government.
“Bedi would have gone back to the rulebook – and said that the Opposition can form the government only if they prove their majority,” he added. “But Governor Soundararajan may allow the alliance with the highest numbers to get a shot at governance even if they do not have majority.”
And the BJP-NR Congress-AIADMK alliance would want to assume power even if it is for a few days before the Assembly elections get notified.
“This would help them to claim during their campaign that the Congress-DMK alliance is unstable,” a source said.
Besides, Bedi had not succeeded in winning over the confidence of MLAs. Four MLAs, who resigned from the Congress, too, had asked the BJP for her removal, the political observer said.
What is, however, puzzling for most is the decision to recall Bedi without giving her a chance to resign.
“It’s a clear warning. The BJP wants her to be a team player. She may get another chance,” a regional leader of the BJP, who did not want to be named, said.
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