Why JDU, Trinamool, AIADMK contest independently outside their States

Do not read much into the decision of Nitish Kumar to go it alone in the Assembly elections of Jharkhand, Delhi, Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir. Mamata Banerjee’s ‘thank you’ message to Nitish Kumar is vacuous, too

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Patna: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has thanked Bihar’s Chief Minister and national president of JD(U) Nitish Kumar for his decision to not join the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) outside his State. In the meeting of the JD(U) national executive in Patna on Sunday, it was decided that the party would contest the Assembly elections on its own in four states including Jharkhand.

Prior to that, JD(U)’s national vice-president and electoral strategist Prashant Kishor had met with Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata to finalise a contract for his firm to make an election strategy for the Trinamool.

The West Bengal chief minister on Monday targeted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) while thanking her Bihari counterpart Nitish Kumar. “They (BJP) are spending crores of rupees to spread fake news through social media. The central government and (BJP) party cadre are trying to incite violence in the State… we will not let Bengal turn into another Gujarat,” a combative Banerjee, who had a war of words with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the general elections, told reporters at the state secretariat.

After it was decided at the JD(U) national executive meeting in Patna on Sunday that the party would fight the Assembly elections of Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Haryana and Delhi alone, Nitish Kumar clarified that the aim of his organisation was to expand outside Bihar.

However, the JD(U), Nitish Kumar had said, would remain a steadfast ally of the NDA in Bihar. JD(U) national general secretary KC Tyagi said that the party would contest the Bihar Assembly elections under the NDA banner in 2020.

While Nitish Kumar has said that he does not have any problem with what JD(U) national vice president Prashant Kishor’s private firm does, the issue did not figure in the national executive meeting of the party.

Of course, Nitish had also said to journalists that such questions must be addressed to Prashant Kishor and not him.

The fact that the agency of Prashant Kishor would formulate a strategy for Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool, for which the BJP is now the archrival in Bengal, while the JD(U) is an ally of the BJP in Bihar can complicate things in the NDA. But Tyagi insists that JD(U) has nothing to do with Prashant Kishor’s firm.

In fact, the Bihari electorate in the States of Jharkhand, Delhi, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir are well aware of the fact that the JD(U) fights in these places independent of the NDA. It has done so for several Assembly elections now.

It may come as a surprise only to the uninitiated that even the Trinamool tried its luck in States far away from Bengal as a part of its effort to expand its electoral footprint and thus be recognised by the Election Commission (ECI) as a national party. However, the “All India” part in the name “All India Trinamool Congress” is no more meaningful than the same prefix in “All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam” that is hardly present outside Tamil Nadu.

Some regional parties try this, encouraged by a strange rule of the ECI that says that any party that is able to garner 6% of the votes polled in each of at least four States of the country will be recognised as a national party. There are certain privileges in an election only national parties enjoy. The most important of them is being able to fight on a uniform election symbol across the States. When the JD(U) contests alone in Delhi, for example, it is not allowed to retain its arrow symbol, which it uses in Bihar. Technically, the ECI treats a JD(U) candidate in Delhi, under the present circumstances, as an independent candidate.