Bedi is emerging as Puducherry's Kiran of hope

TS Sudhir
TS SudhirJul 16, 2016 | 15:28

Bedi is emerging as Puducherry's Kiran of hope

The other well-known Bedi - former India cricket captain Bishen Singh - at the peak of his career, used his fingers to create magic with the ball. On a different pitch in former French colony Puducherry, Kiran Bedi decided to play the beautiful game.

On a balmy Saturday morning, the lieutenant-governor (L-G) of Puducherry spent time playing football with kids in a middle class area of the union territory.

In the six weeks she has been the constitutional head of Puducherry, Kiran Bedi has kicked out the stiff upper lip image that has defined Raj Nivas, and ushered in a new way of governance.

Like Narendra Modi in his pre-May 2014 avatar, chai is an integral part of Bedi's outreach mantra. It is called TEA, where T stands for trust, E for empowerment and A for accountability.

Kiran Bedi spent time playing football with kids in a middle class area in Puducherry.

The theory of the Puducherry chai translates into charcha on the streets in 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 is emerging as the "people's governor", the phrase inspired by the AIADMK's reference to Jayalalithaa during O Panneerselvam's reign as "people's CM".

Bedi has 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 L-G to solve their 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.

Looking at Kiran Bedi hogging the headlines in this part of the country, one would wonder if the union territory is under President's Rule.

It is not. Puducherry, in fact, has a brand new chief minister in V Narayanasami. Moreover, he is eight days newer than Bedi, who was sworn in on May 29.

The NDA government sent Bedi to Puducherry even as the Congress was procrastinating over "kaun banega mukhyamantri".

Though the Congress in alliance with the DMK came to power in the May 16 Assembly elections, Narayanasami queered the pitch for the other CM aspirants by throwing his hat into the ring, despite the fact that he didn't contest the polls.

By the time he took over, Bedi had hit the ground running.

Bedi's appointment as L-G came as a surprise given all the blame placed on her by the BJP for the humiliating defeat in the 2015 Delhi Assembly elections.

Puducherry, in that sense, is witnessing Kiran Bedi 3.0, after her excellent career as an IPS officer and a disastrous political innings in Delhi.

As the constitutional head of Puducherry, Bedi has been given a chance to prove her mettle and show that Delhi's loss could be Puducherry's gain.

In Congress circles, however, doubts were raised if the BJP was planning to use the gubernatorial office to do an Uttarakhand or an Arunachal in Puducherry.

But then Bedi is not your run-of-the-mill politician.

She has made it clear that she sees a role for herself as an efficient administrator even though Raj Nivas occupants are meant to be happy inaugurating painting exhibitions and addressing NCC cadets.

In Bedi's book, both people's representatives and appointees have a shared responsibility, with no competition between them.

Bedi also realises that the L-G office of Puducherry, which functions like a half-state, gives her more elbow room to make her presence felt.

Bedi is an excellent communicator and uses social media effectively.

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 Puducherry's brand ambassador for the Swacch Puducherry campaign, Bedi knows the craft of connecting.

She responds to suggestions on Twitter too, from telling citizens to call 1031 for complaints relating to corruption, to promising to arrange shifting stray dogs to a dog pound.

The cop in her has come to the fore in the manner in which she has gifted children with yellow whistles to blow when they see anyone openly defecating despite having a community toilet in the area.

In contrast, Narayanasami - an old-world politician - has just got on to Twitter and has acquired 200-odd followers, compared to Bedi's 71 lakh. His start, also, wasn't the best.

The day Narayanasami was sworn in, Bedi bowled a politically correct googly by issuing an order doing away with the "lal batti culture", saying sirens shall not be used in VIP cars and traffic will not be stopped for them. The newly sworn-in CM could only meekly announce that he will use his personal vehicle.

Though both Bedi and Narayanasami have maintained that the two work in harmony, the absence of the CM at the International Yoga Day celebration, where Bedi was present, was interpreted as the first indications of displeasure at the L-G's overreach.

To ensure there is no bad blood, Bedi has been ensuring the presence of concerned ministers on her visits to different areas.

If Bedi is a success, the indirect benefit will go to the BJP which can showcase itself as a party committed to the development mantra in this part of the country where it is a marginal player.

Without a doubt, Kiran Bedi is putting her best foot forward, while Narayanasami has to worry about getting elected to the Puducherry Assembly by convincing one of his legislators to resign from his seat.

With an active L-G who speaks her mind, the tranquil union territory might well witness a "Jung" soon.

2,300km away, a person called Arvind Kejriwal will be watching.

Last updated: July 19, 2016 | 15:56
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