Confrontation played out as power tussles, courtroom battles, tangles over policy
The removal of Kiran Bedi as Puducherry Lt. Governor on Tuesday brings to an end a tumultuous phase of confrontation between the Raj Nivas and the Congress government that played out variously as power tussles, courtroom battles, tangles over policy and a slow burn of several key schemes.
Ms. Bedi took office as the 24th Lt. Governor on May 29, 2016, and charted a more dynamic and interventionist role for the Raj Nivas that would put her at odds with the government of Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy, the Congress veteran who entered office in June the same year.
Ms. Bedi’s measures such as holding citizen grievance redress meetings at the Raj Nivas as part of measures to make it a “People’s Nivas” and undertaking visits for on-the-spot assessments of civic woes soon sparked charges that she was running a parallel administration and side-lining the legislators.
The simmering discord between the Union Territory’s titular head and its political commander-in-chief burst into the open in January 2017, when the Lt. Governor and the Chief Minister clashed over her suspension of an official of the Pondicherry Civil Services for sharing obscenity on a WhatsApp group and directing the police to book a case under Section 67A of the Information Technology Act. She then cancelled the Chief Minister’s order, vide a circular dated January 2, 2017, prohibiting officials from using social media for “interaction with seniors bypassing the administrative hierarchy and routine official channel”.
The complaint to the then Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, by eight Congress MLAs accusing the Lt. Governor of adopting a “rigidly autocratic, unethical, whimsical and dictatorial” style of running the administration by “overlooking” an elected government was a sign of things to come. The differences between the two constitutional authorities ranged from banal issues such as whether to allow New Year gatherings on the beach to weighty policy matters.
However, the government declared an all-out war when the Lt. Governor administered the oath of office to three BJP-nominated MLAs in 2017 and later when she overruled the Cabinet decision to distribute rice and chose cash transfers. Ms. Bedi’s style of governance has led to two dramatic protests led by the Chief Minister demanding her recall — an unprecedented dharna in front of the Raj Nivas in February 2019 and a three-day round-the-clock dharna in January this year. Mr. Narayanasamy had also submitted a petition to the President on January 10, reiterating the plea for her recall.
Among Ms. Bedi’s accomplishments are efforts at transparency and accountability in the administration and her campaign for the revival of lakes and waterbodies.