02 Mar 2024  |   05:08am IST

Can India hold elections without party symbols?

Antonio Diniz

Election symbols have been always associated with political parties specially on account of voting. Even when voting took place during the historical Opinion Poll in order to decide the fate of Goa,  to merge or not into the neighboring Maharashtra, two famous symbols Flower and Two Leaves were used for the voters to have a clear perception about what they were voting for.

To recall the history, symbols made their presence in India from the very first general election and later other elections that were held subsequently both for the national elections and in the states whenever elections were conducted. Each and every political party was allotted their own specific symbols. This was the need of the hour because most Indians soon after the independence were still illiterate and for them to read the names of the candidates and associate them with their respective political parties was a difficult situation. Hence the election commission at that time decided that every political party which was contesting the elections had to have a symbol which the voters would easily recognise and accordingly cast their votes.

As the years passed, having an election symbol became an accepted reality for both the political parties and the voters. Thus the supporters of political parties associated with the symbol and also became emotionally and politically attached to the symbol.

Nevertheless as time passed political parties did not remain forever united. The Congress Party was the first national party that split twice under Indira Gandhi and each time the election commission allowed her faction to choose her a new symbol that was different from the original one. Surprisingly inspite of that she won the elections. Such splits were not only restricted to Congress but even other parties did split. Each side was given a symbol and supporters of that political faction had to accept it and get familiarized with it, so that they could easily recognise it. With the passage of time, voters manifested their  acceptance and affection for the new symbol. So the  new symbol became a crucial integral and emotional part of the political party. 

However, there’s no conclusive evidence that symbols alone are responsible for the victory of contesting parties.  As time passed on account of various reasons political parties continued splitting with  much greater frequency and different symbols had to be allotted to them on account of existing practice. 

But the parties were not willing to give up their original symbols so easily.  They approached the Speaker, the Election Commission, the courts and even the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court. 

Under the circumstances the occurrence of a changed political scenario gives us a feeling that symbols will be slowly losing their relevance because of the constant  divisions  in the parties and also that people are becoming more and more literate. They can easily read the name of the candidates of the respective political parties and  they can accordingly cast their votes to the candidates of their choice. Hence it appears that gradually India will have to give up this idea of having  election symbols associated with political parties and move away, because the majority of the voters will not vote only because of the symbol but mainly on account of the candidate and the political party. So it appears that most Indians who were once deeply and emotionally attached would finally realize that they could do without a symbol. Therefore on account of this and other various reasons symbols of political parties might lose their relevance and become obsolete and elections of the future could be held without party symbols as it is being done in many of the successful democratic nations.

Having said so, the recent developments in Shiv Sena and NCP  demonstrate that the symbols still play a dominant role, and one or other side  feeling hurt and dispossessed  and continue their legal battle to regain the lost symbol.

Is it too early to assume that India will hold future elections without party symbols?


Iddhar Udhar