While the former IPS officer says her administrative prowess is the reason behind her appointment, opposition parties hope it is not an attempt by the BJP to fetter a state government it doesn’t control
New Delhi: The appointment of Kiran Bedi – the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in Delhi in the last election – as Lieutenant-Governor of Puducherry is likely to reopen the debate over whether the Narendra Modi government is using gubernatorial appointments as a political counter-weight to opposition-ruled governments around the country.
After the recently concluded assembly polls, Puducherry is the only place where the Congress has come to power. Given the unseemly tussle between Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and L-G Najeeb Jung over overlapping administrative powers, and the BJP’s aggressive stance of pushing for a ‘Congress-free India’, could the southern Union territory also see a clash between L-G and chief minister?
Dismissing such apprehensions, Bedi, who was also the first woman officer of the Indian Police Service, said she was “trustworthy in terms of governance” and would live up to her reputation. “The good news is that it is a Union territory, which means one can do so much more,” she told NDTV.
Bedi’s statement about doing ‘so much more’ has, in fact, fuelled opposition misgivings. “An L-G has a wider range of powers in comparison to a governor. The L-G is the direct representative of the Centre in the Union territory, which functions like a half-state, and with half the powers of a state. Historically, if the governments at the Centre and the Union territory are led by parties in opposition, there have been problems in the exercise of powers. The most recent example is the bitter battle between the Aam Aadmi Party government and Najeeb Jung,” Aryama, a Delhi-based political scientist said.
Of late, governors and L-Gs in various states and Union territories have been IN the midst of different controversies with opposition parties accusing them of openly favouring the BJP and abusing their offices by acting in a politically partisan way. For instance, the Uttarakhand high court put the blame squarely on the state’s governor K.K. Paul for acting as the Centre’s agent in trying to topple the government in its fifth year.
Similarly, the governor of Arunachal Pradesh Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa played a crucial role in getting president’s rule imposed in the state earlier this year. The Madhya Pradesh governor Ram Naresh Yadav was also put in the dock by the Supreme Court for his involvement in the Vyapam scam in which the names of many BJP leaders surfaced.
The Congress and other parties in opposition have been accusing the BJP of overtly extracting political advantage from these constitutional offices. The opposition parties have also alleged that such appointments have never been so openly politically-partisan and that the BJP-led government has been appointing active party leaders for these posts. Because of such developments over the past two years, political observers believe that misuse of constitutional offices such as the governor’s or the L-G’s have led the courts to intervene frequently in executive matters.
Bedi’s appointment, therefore, is politically significant as far as the BJP’s scheme of things have gone so far. In the past few years, the party has tried to make inroads into the southern states of India. In doing so, it has played its Hindutva card less frequently than in north India and has pitched itself as an administratively efficient party, one which has long term governance solutions. In doing so, it pits itself directly against the traditional Dravidian parties which rely on ‘populist measures’ to garner votes. The assembly election results, in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu, show that it has managed to attract a growing section of the urban middle class by its governance rhetoric even if the number of seats won has been negligible.
By appointing Bedi, who joined the BJP to become its chief ministerial candidate in Delhi last year, as Puducherry’s L-G, the BJP hopes to drive this message of governance and efficiency further. The party has been trying to rope in intellectuals and reputed administrators in the south for quite some time now. For instance, in Kerala it has managed to bring well-known figures G. Madhavan Nair, former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation and T.K.A. Nair, principal secretary to former prime minister Manmohan Singh within its fold. The decision to appoint Bedi as L-G seems to be well chalked out political symbolism.
Given this context, political parties in opposition, despite being apprehensive, were cautious in responding to the development. “We wish her all the very best in her new innings as the L-G of Puducherry. I hope she will work as per the constitution of India and not as per the bylaws of the BJP. I also hope that Bedi will stay clear of the political agenda that the BJP wants to pursue. It is very clear that the BJP has milked Bedi’s personality and standing in society quite well,” Raghav Chaddha of Aam Aadmi Party told The Wire.
Similarly, the Congress Leader P C Chacko reiterated that while the party has no problems working with the central government, the L-G should work within constitutional limits. “The appointment is absolutely within the powers of the central government. The L-G is expected to be impartial with the democratically-elected government. If she acts within the constitutional norms, I do not think we will be having any problems with her. We have a comfortable majority in Puducherry,” Chacko told The Wire.
To a question on whether it is a political appointment, he added: “I would like to say that the BJP was vehemently opposed to political appointments for such posts when we were in power, despite the fact that we only appointed senior leaders who had retired from active politics. But ever since the BJP has come to power, it has been appointing active BJP leaders for constitutional posts and has taken political mileage out of it. Kiran Bedi, too, has been given a political reward now. It is certainly a quid pro quo appointment as she had agreed to lead the weak BJP in Delhi. But we respect Kiran Bedi and do not anticipate any problems. We understand that a Union territory has limited powers and will work within its powers. Unlike AAP, Sheila Dikshit’s government in Delhi worked well enough with the Central government to improve Delhi’s infrastructure.”