Parting ways with the Congress, Mamata Banerjee floated her own political party and named it the All India Trinamool Congress — TMC — on January 1, 1998. More than 16 years later, the TMC became a national party but another seven years down the line, the tag has been withdrawn.
The Trinamool Congress was exploring legal options to challenge the decision of the Election Commission (EC) which withdrew its national party status on Monday. However, EC data analysed by News18 shows that TMC may not stand ground legally.
First, let’s see how the party managed to gain national status. The simplest eligibility is to be a state party in more than four states.
The TMC was announced a state party in 2014 in West Bengal, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. Later, it also became a state party in Tripura. This was based on its performance in the 2011 assembly polls in West Bengal, 2012 polls in Manipur and 2009 assembly elections in Arunachal Pradesh. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, its performance in Tripura made it eligible to be a state party there and since it was a state party in four states, it was announced a national party in 2016.
In August 2016, amendments in Para 6C of the Symbol Order Act, 1968, were introduced which said a party’s performance over two consecutive Lok Sabha or assembly elections is considered — as opposed to one previously — for granting recognition as a national party. The effective date for this amendment was January 1, 2014.
Despite the party’s poor performance in Arunachal Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections, it continues to be a state party there as per the amendments.
Apart from getting recognition as a state party in four states, political parties can also become national parties if they get six per cent vote share each in any four states in the previous assembly polls along with four seats in the previous Lok Sabha elections; or get two per cent of all Lok Sabha seats in the last general election with MPs elected from at least three states.
Poor Performance Outside Bengal
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the TMC bagged around 40 per cent vote share in West Bengal and got 34 of 42 seats.
However, outside the state, its performance was poor. In Manipur (4%), Tripura (10%) and Arunachal Pradesh (2%), the party did not get any seats although it got some share of the total votes.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, TMC did not contest in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. In Tripura (0.40%), it failed to bag any seats. It was only in West Bengal that the party got around 45 per cent vote share and 22 seats.
Similarly, in the assembly polls held after 2016, it was only West Bengal where the TMC could save face. It did not contest the 2019 assembly polls in Arunachal Pradesh. In the 2018 Tripura polls, the party got 0.30 per cent votes and no seats. In the 2017 Manipur polls, it managed to get just one seat and 1.41 per cent vote share. In the 2016 West Bengal elections, Banerjee’s party got around 45 per cent vote share and 211 seats. In the 2022 Manipur polls, the TMC stayed away from the contest.
TMC’s Failure to be State Party in Arunachal, Manipur
The TMC did not fulfill the criteria to be a state party in Arunachal Pradesh based on its performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha and the assembly polls held in the same year. In 2019, TMC did not contest these polls in Arunachal Pradesh.
In Manipur too, TMC failed to fulfill the criteria in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls and 2017 and 2022 assembly elections. Considering these results and poll performance, the EC took the decision to withdraw TMC’s state party tag in these states.
What does the EC have to say?
Speaking to News18, an Election Commission official said the status of the political parties — state and national — is reviewed after every election.
“A review of the poll performance of every recognised political party is required to be made by the Election Commission after every general election to the House of the People or to the State Legislative Assembly, as the case may be under the provisions of Paragraph 6A, 6B and 6C of the Symbols Order,” the official said, seeking anonymity.
The official added that the TMC was issued a show-cause notice in 2019 and asked to submit its comments as to why its national party status should not be withdrawn.
The TMC, in its reply, said it was recognised as a national party in 2016 and is entitled for continued recognition as a national party till the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
“The party requested to provide time up to 2024 to improve its performance in the upcoming general election…,” the EC said, adding that the review process of the poll performance of political parties was put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The commission resumed the process in December 2021.
In March 2023, the party said the review of the satisfaction criteria by TMC can be made only after the next Lok Sabha polls in 2024.
After considering the submissions, both oral and written, made by the TMC and the relevant statistics and review of poll performance of the party, the commission found that the interpretation that TMC can continue to be recognised as a state party in these states for two national or state election cycles, post 2016, is “erroneous”.
“The TMC took the first benefit of the amended rules in 2016 as it got an extension of recognition as state party in Arunachal Pradesh despite not having requisite poll performance in the 2014 parliamentary election,” the official said.
Further, the “assessment starts with the position of the parties as on January 1, 2014. Thereafter, the ‘next election’ which takes place becomes the General Election to Lok Sabha notified on March 14, 2014, along with the General Election to the Legislative Assembly of Arunachal Pradesh held simultaneously”, they said.
In Manipur, the official added, the party did not qualify for the status of recognised state party on the basis of its performance in Lok Sabha polls held in 2014 and 2019 and assembly elections of 2017 and 2022.
On being asked that TMC may challenge the decision of the EC, the official said the party had demanded an extended opportunity to satisfy the criteria and at least 21 assembly polls were held in India between July 2019 and December 2022.
“Records reflect that TMC participated in six of these 21 General Elections to Legislative Assemblies. Thus, the extended timeline of review, triggered by Covid-19, in effect has provided ample further opportunities to TMC from regaining the impugned status as state party and consequently as a national party. In any case, as electoral cycles progress, nothing prevents AITC from regaining its status as mandated under Para 6A and 6B,” the official said.
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