The Bharatiya Janata Party on Tuesday effected a backdoor entry into the Puducherry Assembly through a manoeuvre that Chief Minister V Narayanasamy of the Congress has described as a “cruel insult to rules and regulations” that govern the Union Territory.

The BJP did not win any seats in the 2016 polls to the Puducherry Assembly, which has 30 elected legislators and three nominated members. On Monday, the Union Home Ministry cleared the names of two BJP functionaries – V Saminathan and KG Shankar – and pro-BJP education entrepreneur S Selva Ganapathy as the nominated members.

In a hurriedly arranged swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday evening, Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi administered the oath of office to the three men at the Raj Bhavan, a ceremony from which the media was kept away.

The nominations have exacerbated the tussle between the offices of the lieutenant governor and the chief minister. Narayanasamy has accused Bedi of invading powers of the elected government by exaggerating her own powers as the Centre’s administrator of the Union Territory. A Congress MLA has filed a case in the Madras High Court against the nominations.

Full-blown war

The administration of the Union Territory differs from that of a state in that the lieutenant governor has powers that are much wider than those of a state governor. In fact, under the Union Territories Act, the lieutenant governor is defined as the administrator of a Union Territory. So, for example, contracts above a particular value have to get the approval of the lieutenant governor.

The Act also clearly demarcates the functions of the Cabinet headed by the chief minister and the lieutenant governor. On most issues, the lieutenant governor is expected to heed the advice of the council of ministers. One recent instance of the recognition of the chief minister’s autonomy was his inclusion in the Goods and Services Tax Council. The Centre did not claim that membership should go to the lieutenant governor.

Likewise, the Assembly also has independent powers and an exclusive domain over legislation, with the speaker in control of the functioning of the house.

Chief Minister Narayanasamy told that the procedure established over the years for the nomination of legislators was clear: the territorial government’s recommendations are sent to the Union home ministry, which clears the nominations through the lieutenant governor.

This week’s nominations, he said, were a deviation from precedent. The three BJP nominations were made without consulting the chief minister or the territorial government, Narayanasamy said. “Despite Puducherry having a functioning Assembly, the lieutenant governor has gone ahead and sworn in the legislators in a hurried manner,” he said.

The seeming haste with which the swearing-in ceremony was doncuted and the role of Bedi has come under sharp criticism from the Congress and its allies. After the nominees were cleared on Monday, the three men wanted Speaker V Vaithilingam to swear them in on Tuesday. When the speaker did not reply by the evening, Bedi administered the oath.

“This is a complete mockery of the powers of the Assembly,” Narayanasamy alleged.

However, BJP officials said they were forced to approach Bedi because the Congress was trying to delay the swearing-in ceremony in the hope of getting a judicial stay on the nominations.

Laws not clear

Narayanasamy has suggested that Bedi was biased towards the BJP, which had made her their chief ministerial candidate for the Delhi elections in 2015. However, there is confusion about the process of nominating legislators to the Assembly of a Union Territory.

The Union Territories Act does not elaborate on whether the Centre should take into consideration the view of the territorial government in this matter.

Section 3 (3) of the UT Act simply states:

“The Central Government may nominate not more than three persons, not being persons in the service of Government, to be members of the Legislative Assembly [of the Union territory].” 

Over the years, the Centre has followed the convention of only considering candidates recommended by the territorial government for nominations. Even in 2014, the Centre cleared the names provided by the Puducherry government led by Chief Minister N Rangasamy. However, because of this legal ambiguity, even Congress leaders are sceptical about whether a challenge to the nominations in the High Court will be fruitful.

There are two other aspects on which a challenge could be made. M Ramadass, former economist at the Pondicherry University and former parliamentarian, said there was nothing in the UT Act that supported the swearing in of these legislators by the Lieutenant Governor. “When there is an Assembly with a Speaker, where is the question of Raj Bhavan administering the oath of office?” he asked.

The Congress could claim that this is an invasion of the exclusive domain of the elected Assembly. A senior party leader said the question of whether the Speaker himself should move the Supreme Court is being discussed within the party.

Secondly, Ramadass pointed out that in 1963, when the discussion on nomination of legislators to the Union Territory came up for discussion in the Parliament, Lal Bahadur Shastri, who was Union Home Minister at the time, recommended two important guidelines. He did so as the Opposition wanted the provision for nominating MLAs to be dropped from the Act as they feared it would lead to political appointments.

Shastri said that it would be made sure that the nominations were used to appoint people from communities unrepresented in the Assembly through the electoral process and eminent personalities who could add value to debates on law making. The Opposition allowed the provision to stay after this assurance.

“But two of the three persons nominated have criminal cases pending against them,” Ramadass added. This clearly undermined Shastri’s assurance.

As if to underscore this, he pointed out that in the 1990s, the nomination of K Lakshminarayanan to the Puducherry Assembly had been cancelled after it was revealed that he had a minor criminal case against him.

History of clashes

This is not the first time that Narayanasamy and Bedi have clashed over rules. In April, Puducherry faced a constitutional crisis of sorts when Bedi intervened and cancelled the recommendations made by the Assembly to keep in abeyance the appointment of a municipal official.

Congress leaders said they will now take their protest to the streets. The is likely to extend support to a bandh called by Tamil groups against Bedi on July 8. Narayanasamy has also written to the President protesting against the nominations.