The gloves are off. And in the first match in the New Year, Kiran Bedi, Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, has clean bowled Puducherry chief minister V Narayansamy.
On January 2, Narayansamy issued a ban on the use of social media by government employees for official work. His argument was that the server of the social media companies were located abroad, thereby making official communication and documents shared on them accessible to anyone.
Borrowing from his experience of having worked in the PMO, Narayansamy also pointed out that this was in violation of the Official Secrets Act and guidelines issued by the Centre and the Ministry of Information Technology. The notice also said that an official must take written permission from the chief secretary before doing government work through social media.
Bedi saw in it an attempt to sideline her given how active she is on social media. She hit back 48 hours later, cancelling the CM's notification.
The rebuff to Narayanasamy, a veteran Congress leader, threatens to snowball into a major controversy as the Lieutenant Governor will be seen as undermining the office of the chief minister. Like in Delhi, the LG of Puducherry is a powerful entity despite having a legislature and a CM in place.
Bedi is clearly bracing up for a fight. Not only did she cancel the CM's order, she rubbed it in by putting out the cancellation order on Twitter. She also had a word of advice for Narayanasamy in what seemed like a condescending tone.
She tweeted: "If Puducherry has to be a progressive UT it cannot be retrograde in communications. Hence @CM_Puducherry's order stands cancelled.'' The confidence perhaps coming from her 83 lakh followers on Twitter in contrast to 1899 followers for Narayanasamy.
Bedi did not stop there. Snubbing Narayansamy further, she tweeted: "Amazing how we choose to b retrograde. Some in position of power instead of using their position of influence to facilitate, do so to obstruct."
This clash was coming ever since Bedi took charge as LG in May last year. She hit the ground running, reaching out to the people of Puducherry which is scattered across south India - Puducherry and Karaikal enveloped by Tamil Nadu, Mahe near Kerala and Yanam next to Andhra Pradesh.
Like Narendra Modi in his pre-May 2014 avatar, "chai" has been an integral part of Bedi's reach out mantra. It is called TEA, with T standing for Trust, E for empowerment and A for accountability. The theory of the Puducherry chai translates into charcha on the streets of this quaint little town with Bedi getting her hands dirty, literally.
Clearing the garbage off the streets along with sanitation workers, supervising the cleaning of a canal, asking officials why bus stops are in such poor condition, ordering closure of shops that are encroaching on to public space, Bedi has emerged as the "People's Governor". It is a phrase inspired by the AIADMK's reference to Jayalalithaa during O Panneerselvam's reign as "People's CM."
Bedi also started the culture of a public open house meet, with 40 people allowed to meet her at Raj Nivas on a first come, first meet basis, every weekday. People come in expecting the LG to solve problems ranging from school admissions to land disputes. When she hits the streets, Bedi often asks the municipal commissioner to accompany her for decisions to be taken and implemented on the spot. In terms of visibility as an administrator, Narayanasamy started coming across as an also-ran.
Which chief minister would like it, pray? Narayanasamy did a good job of keeping his angst to himself, biding his time. But when the Whatsapp groups started by Bedi with officials of the government added to them began operating like a parallel government, Narayanasamy decided enough was enough. Experts say that the CM does have a point about security concerns as the servers are indeed not 100 percent secure. The counter argument is that Whatsapp democratises grassroots governance and that civic issues - and not state secrets - are mostly discussed over these Whatsapp groups.
But the real intention was to show Bedi her place. Last week, the LG had suspended AS Sivakumar, Registrar of Cooperative Societies, an officer of the rank of Joint Secretary for posting a lewd video on a Whatsapp group `Prosperous Rural Puducherry' started by her. Sivakumar was detained at the police station for 14 hours before the CM intervened. Fellow officers and even ministers were not reportedly happy with the decision and the CM decided to use this opportunity to get official conversations on Whatsapp, Twitter and Facebook stopped once and for all.
The Election Commission entered the debate as well, staying the suspension as the officer had been appointed as Electoral Registration officer for electoral roll revision. So under the rules, he was under the control of the EC and not the government of Puducherry or the LG's office.
This tension between Narayansamy and Bedi has not helped Puducherry. Officials have often been confused whether to listen to the CMO or Raj Nivas. Bedi was also seen as overreaching and stepping on the CM's toes. Narayanasamy was hardly amused by a rival power centre, given that he himself is seen as a CM thrust upon Puducherry by the Congress High command in Delhi.
In fact, Narayansamy got a taste of things the day he began his innings as CM of Puducherry. The day he was sworn in, Bedi issued an order doing away with the lal batti culture. She said sirens shall not be used in cars of VIPs and traffic will not be stopped for VIP cars. The freshly minted CM could only meekly announce that he will use his personal vehicle.
Since then, Bedi has been playing on the front foot, running well between the wickets with social media as an effective ally. She would respond to suggestions on Twitter too, from telling citizens to call 1031 for complaints relating to corruption to promising to arrange to shift stray dogs to a dog pound.
From tweets like ``All set to dedicate to children of a slum, a children park cleared and cleaned by the PWD'' to using the networking site to appeal to superstar Rajinikanth to become the UT's brand ambassador for the Swacch Puducherry campaign, Bedi connected as the face of Puducherry.
With the two salvos from the CM and the LG, it is clear that a Jung of the Delhi kind has broken out in Puducherry.
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