Voters from the Union Territory of Puducherry came out in large numbers for the single-phase polls to 30 seats in the assembly, held on April 6. The final turnout tally stood at 81.55%. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), after toppling the local Congress government, has been desperate to make inroads into the UT.
The party's poll plank was dominated by promises made by the Prime Minister and Home Minister on development in the region with total support by the Centre.
The alliance led by the Congress, with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Communist Party of India (CPI) and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), is hoping to keep the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at bay. However, pre-poll surveys have predicted an upperhand for the NDA, which comprises the All India NR Congress (AINRC) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) alongside the BJP.
NDA'S PROMISES ON DEVELOPMENT
As usual, the BJP pitched for development and employment in the UT if voted to power. The PM and HM, made a plethora of promises during their visits . In his address on March 30, PM Narendra Modi said that the NDA would work to make a 'BEST' – "Business, Education, Spiritual and Tourism” -- Puducherry.
R.K. Radhakrishnan, the associate editor of Frontline magazine, told Newsclick: “There is no evidence of life getting better in any of the states across the country where the BJP has come to power or has been ruling for a longer time. The party has given tickets to single digit lottery ticket sellers and people connected with distilleries in the UT. There is no possibility of the promises being fulfilled, since these people want to protect only their business”.
“The RSS agenda of converting Puducherry into a spiritual town from a tourism hub is the only possibility, given the historical background of the region," added Radhakriahnan.
In his speech during the election campaign, HM Amit Shah has also promised to make ‘Puducherry the jewel of the country’. BJP leaders have promised to reduce unemployment to below 40%, a promise included in their election manifesto released by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. In April 2020 – during the COVID-19 lockdown – the unemployment rate in Puducherry had risen to a bizarre 75.8%.
A.Anand, president of the Puducherry unit of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), said the BJP was known to "make tall and false promises. There are two lakh youth registered for employment in Puducherry. The BJP government at the Centre has denied permission for making appointments over the last five years. Their promises are just an election jumla and nothing else”.
‘CASH FOR VOTES IN 28 CONSTITUENCIES’
The BJP has been throwing its weight around within the alliance, forcing the AINRC to join the NDA, while the AIADMK had no choice but to join the alliance. The AIADMK was reduced to a junior partner which was allocated five seats. The BJP fielded its candidates from nine constituencies; it forfeited the deposit in 29 of the 30 constituencies it contested in 2016.
The BJP has been alleging that the Dravidian parties have been bribing voters and announcing freebies in their election manifestos. However, it was itself caught on the wrong foot when its candidate from Thirunallar constituency, Rajasekaran, was accused of distributing gold coins to women and Rs 2,000 in cash to male voters. The Election Commission had reportedly seized 149 such gold coins and Rs 96,000 in cash from the candidate's aides.
“Money was reportedly distributed in 28 of the 30 constituencies. The Rs 2,000 was paid before polling and another Rs 1,000 was promised after the outcome on May 2. Gold coins with Narendra Modi’s photographs were seized but it seems the Election Commission, after making a huge hue and cry in Tamil Nadu, has gone silent in Puducherry," accused Radhakrishnan.
‘PRE POLL SURVEYS ENFORCED?’
Most of the pre poll surveys have predicted a victory for the NDA, but Radhakrishan felt that, “the ground was laid in favour of the BJP through the pre-poll surveys.”
“The pre-poll surveys predicting a massive victory is quite unimaginable. The BJP has done nothing to create a 180 degree shift in the mindset of the people," Radhakrishnan added.
The BJP has unleashed a massive social media campaign into which the Madras High Court has ordered the ECI to conduct an enquiry on the alleged breach of privacy of the citizens.
“On behalf of the DYFI we have filed a case against the data theft by the BJP. The court denied a postponement of the election, but has ordered the concerned authorities to report back after conducting a detailed enquiry,” Anand said.
The BJP had three nominated members in the last assembly, while the DMK and Congress has ruled the UT for almost 58 years with the AIADMK capturing power for 1.5 years. The AINRC was at the helm for five years. The Congress is banking on its traditional voter base to regain power. Howver, former chief minister V.Narayanaswamy stayed away from contesting, resulting in a sombre mood within the Congress camp.