Chennai: Puducherry chief minister N Rangasamy’s Covid-19 infection and ally BJP’s demands have delayed the formation of the union territory’s cabinet, said leaders privy to the ground situation. They however said an arrangement was reached after Rangasamy and union home minister Amit Shah spoke over the phone on Tuesday.
This led to the Puducherry unit of the BJP to make one confirmation on Wednesday — that the speaker post will be taken by the party. The high command would decide on the number of ministers, the candidates and portfolios, said BJP’s Puducherry chief V Saminathan. But for the three nominated MLAs in 2016-2021 assembly and an elected MLA in 2001, the BJP had had no presence in the erstwhile French colony and it will now have a strong cabinet representation.
The NDA alliance led by Rangasamy’s All India NR Congress (AINRC) in Puducherry won the assembly elections that were declared on May 2. Rangasamy took oath on May 7 and the next day he tested positive for the virus. From May 9 to 17, Rangasamy was under treatment at a private hospital in Chennai. He continued to quarantine and on May 26, pro-term speaker of the legislative assembly K Lakshminarayanan of AINRC administered the oath of office to the newly elected MLAs.
The BJP is likely to get two cabinet ministers, said an AINRC leader, not wishing to be named. “BJP had demanded three ministers. Our stand was that they either get three ministers and no speaker post or two ministers plus a speaker. That negotiation took about for four days and finally we reached agreement on second option,” he said.
The BJP had also asked for a deputy chief minister’s post which is till now not a position in Puducherry. “That is also in process,” said Saminathan. “Our high command will make a decision and before June 14 the cabinet will be formed.” The national party’s high command is also expected to meet Rangasamy in person in the coming days.
But AINRC and BJP members said that the month’s gap in expanding the cabinet was largely due to Rangasamy’s health and the matter has been solved. When he was hospitalised, the union government nominated three BJP members as MLAs to the Puducherry assembly. The elected strength is 30 seats plus three nominated seats. “The cabinet will have the chief minister, five ministers and a speaker,” said AINRC secretary NSJ Jayabal. “The speaker has to be elected but since we have given that to the BJP, we will not nominate anyone and we will present the new cabinet for the L-G’s approval.”
On Wednesday, the Madras high court upheld the nominations of the three BJP MLAs, dismissing a plea filed against it. In the previous regime also, the three nominated seats were from the BJP who, thanks to a Supreme Court order, have voting rights on the floor of the House. They were instrumental in the fall of the previous Congress government that couldn’t prove majority owing to a spate of resignations since January and came under Governor’s rule.
Despite drawing a blank in the previous 2016 elections, the BJP poached some Congress heavyweights, gave them seats and won six out of nine constituencies they contested this time. AINRC won 10 seats. Their ally AIADMK drew a blank. The Congress just has two MLAs while its ally, the DMK, has six. A record number of six independent MLAs were elected this time. The BJP also now has the support of three independent MLAs.