Hand, Lotus, noodle bowl, charger and more: How are symbols allotted to political parties in India?

Hand, Lotus, noodle bowl, charger and more: How are symbols allotted to political parties in India?


Context- The Supreme Court on Friday (October 20) refused to entertain a petition filed by the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) party in Telangana, challenging the allotment of election symbols to two other parties.

BRS argued that the symbols of ‘road roller’ and ‘chapatti roller’, which were allotted to a ‘Yuga Thulasi Party’ and ‘Alliance of Democratic Reforms Party’ respectively, looked similar to BRS’s symbol of a car. This might confuse the voters during elections, it said. However, the SC declined the petition, saying voters were intelligent enough to differentiate between the symbols.

Who allots election symbols to political parties in India?

  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) is responsible for the allotment of symbols. This is done under The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, which is meant “to provide for specification, reservation, choice and allotment of symbols at elections in Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies, for the recognition of political parties.”
  • Symbols can be either reserved, meaning they are exclusive to a recognised political party (having garnered a minimum amount of votes or seats at the national or state level elections), or ‘free’.
  • Unrecognised registered parties’ candidates, for instance, can choose from free, non-exclusive symbols. These parties are newly registered or have not secured enough percentage of votes in the Assembly or General elections to fulfil the prescribed criteria to become a state party.
  • After being selected by parties, in subsequent elections, these symbols are declared free again for others to choose.
  • Recognised national and state parties get exclusive symbols. For example, when it came to selecting an election symbol for the 1993 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, Samajwadi Party leader Mulavam Singh Yadav picked the symbol of a bicycle from the given options, believing it would represent the farmers, the poor, labourers, and the middle class.
  • The EC then publishes lists specifying the parties and their symbols through a notification in the Gazette of India. According to its notifications this year, there are six national parties, 26 state parties, and 2,597 registered unrecognised parties.

How did symbols like clock, lotus, hen, etc. enter the EC’s list?

  • Records with the ECI show that the commission had symbols sketched by the late MS Sethi, who retired from the ECI in September 1992. He was the last draughtsman (someone tasked with sketching and drawing tasks) employed by the nodal body to sketch symbols.
  • Sethi and a team of ECI officials would sit together and think of daily objects that the common man could identify with. Many established symbols of political parties — bicycle, elephants, brooms — were born of these sessions, ECI records reveal.
  • In the late 1990s, the ECI compiled a collection of 100 sketches into a list, which has the “free” symbols. The list, as of January 2023, now includes objects such as a bowl of noodles, a mobile charger, etc.

Do political parties get to state their preferences?

  • The 1968 order mandates the EC to provide for “specification, reservation, choice and allotment of symbols at parliamentary and assembly elections, for the recognition of political parties”.
  • For unregistered parties, they are supposed to give the names of ten symbols, in order of preference, out of the list of free symbols notified by the commission.
  • Symbols proposed by the parties should have no resemblance to the existing reserved symbols or free symbols, or any religious or communal connotation, or depict any bird or animal.
  • When a recognised political party splits, the Election Commission takes the decision to assign the symbol. For instance, the Congress party, in the first elections of 1952, had a pair of bulls as its symbols. Following splits in the party over the years, the current symbol of hand eventually went to the party.

Conclusion- Election Commission has the authority to decide on the dispute regarding election symbols . For example, the EC allowed the Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena to retain the party’s traditional bow and arrow symbol, while the Udbhav Tackeray faction was allotted a flaming torch.

Syllabus- GS-2; Elections

Source- Indian Express