THE outcome of the May 2006 Assembly elections in Pondicherry is the reverse of that in neighbouring Tamil Nadu where the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagm (DMK) government is dependent on the Congress for survival. The new Congress government in the Union territory, headed by N. Rangasamy, remains in power with support from the DMK, the party's principal ally in the Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA). The Congress has only 10 seats in the 30-member House, and the DMK has seven. As part of a "pre-poll understanding", the DMK, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (two seats) and the Communist Party of India (one) support the government "from outside".
Rangasamy, 56, leads the government for the second time in a row. For the Congress, it is a hat-trick because Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president P. Shanmugam headed a Congress government for six months after the Assembly elections in 2001 before Rangasamy assumed office in October that year.
Rangasamy was elected unanimously leader of the new legislature party on May 13 when V. Vaithilingam, a former Chief Minister who was believed to be a contender for the post, proposed his name. Often likened to veteran Congress leader K. Kamaraj not only for his simplicity and accessibility, but also for some of his government's pro-poor projects in the spheres of education and public health, Rangasamy led his party to an impressive, if not spectacular, victory. The party's 10 seats are from the tally of 16 it contested as part of the DPA. Rangasamy himself won the Thattancherry seat for the fourth time since 1991, with a massive margin.
The DMK, which contested 11 seats, suffered a major blow when former Chief Minister and convener of the party in Pondicherry R.V. Janakiraman lost to Om Sakthi Segar of the AIADMK in Nellithope constituency. Janakiraman had held the seat from 1985.
As for the Opposition, the Democratic People's Alliance, comprising the AIADMK, the Puducherry Munnetra Congress (PMC), the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) won seven of the 16 seats it contested - AIADMK three, PMC three and MDMK one. For the MDMK, this is its maiden victory in the Union Territory.
A notable loser in this alliance was P. Kannan, the founder of the PMC, a breakaway group from the Congress. Prominent among the PMC winners is former Education Minister K. Lakshmi Narayanan. For the AIADMK, its State secretary A. Anbalagan retained the Oupalam seat. The BJP, which had 27 candidates, and the DMDK, which contested 24 seats, drew a blank.
The fall in the DPA's tally is attributed to discontent over its performance among a section of the people in the Karaikal region, separated by over 100 km by road through Tamil Nadu, from the Pondicherry segment. The ruling party lost all the four seats it held and contested in Karaikal. During the run-up to the poll, several sections of the people had complained of discrimination in the matter of development. They staged protests and even threatened to boycott the elections. Basically an agricultural area located at the tail end of the Cauvery delta, Karaikal needed special attention but it was not forthcoming from the government, they said.
The PCC general secretary A. Gandhiraj, however, denied that there were any complaints of governmental apathy and disagreed that discontentment led to the loss of the seats. "Our party candidates failed to retain their seats in Karaikal more because of their overconfidence than anything else," he said. Describing the party's performance as "quite satisfactory", Gandhiraj pointed out that in the other three regions, Pondicherry, Mahe and Yenam, the party did well. In the Pondicherry region, he said, the party won seven of the nine seats it contested.
Gandhiraj told Frontline that the new government would continue to give top priority to education, trade and industrialisation with an eye on expanding employment opportunities. As for Karaikal, he said, its agriculture was basically linked to the Cauvery issue and the government would do its best to resolve the issue soon in concert with the other riparian States.
"The government," he said, "has already taken the initiative to convert Karaikal into an industrial area by extending all sorts of incentives so that more employment opportunities are created." He added that "the ongoing efforts in oil-rich Narimanam in the region will go a long way in achieving this."