Party symbols are an indelible part of the Indian elections. Not for India the salon-dried poise of the US presidential poll-scape, where personalities and issues determine the vote. Here, the hand and the broom and the lotus come together in a heady mélange, playing the Indian voter like the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
In interior villages, parties depend heavily on symbols for votes. In many places, it is the party symbol that registers with voters, not the name and face of the candidate.
In every election, the recognised national and state parties contest on age-old allocated signals, while the others have to select their election symbols from a list decided by the Election Commission (EC) in accordance with the provisions of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968.
Till the recent past, there were instances of candidates of smaller parties contesting on different election symbols. Among others, this happened with Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) candidates contesting in western Uttar Pradesh.
This gave opportunity to dummy candidates of rivals to seek official symbol of a party such as the RLD in advance to create confusion.
In July 2013, the EC changed the rules and removed the symbols of recognised parties such as the RLD from the list of free symbols. It also directed that symbols of state parties would be reserved across India, not just the state from where the party was recognised.
For instance, the Aam Aadmi Party, after the December 2013 elections, became a state party from Delhi, but got its election symbol — broom — across India.
Other beneficiaries of the decision were parties such as the Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party, which field candidates outside their electoral bastions of West Bengal and UP.
The Congress hand symbol, according to an Election Commission of India report, changed hands several times before it stuck to the Congress.
In 1951, the All India Forward Bloc (Ruikar Group) used it, in 1962 the Akali Dal and it finally was picked up by Indira Gandhi as the Congress symbol in the late 1970s.
The lotus belonged to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from the start, but the party, with the EC's permission, opted for a bolder look in 2013 keeping in mind the 2014 general elections. The CPI symbol has also been same since the beginning.
Well ahead of polls (state or Lok Sabha), the EC takes stock of symbols taken and releases a list of free or available symbols meant for independent candidates and new parties.
Going by the EC list released on January 18, 2013, symbols on the current menu include air conditioner (the window kind), loaf of bread (with slices falling over each other in quite the domino effect), cauliflower, carrot and frock (very 1960s, complete with puffed sleeves).
In these designer times, when everything from the pencil box to fancy nail paints get expert attention, these symbols do not come across as ones that can grab eyeballs.
Parties and independent candidates might just find delivering their message with authority difficult if saddled with a mixee or an open window or a belt or a pressure cooker as symbol.
The EC’s free symbols have undergone a lot of changes. After an outcry by animal rights activists, the EC removed all animal symbols from the list. The once popular symbol of a farmer carrying a plough is no longer there, going following human rights concerns.
Most of modern gadgets are yet to find place in the EC's free symbol list although the poll watchdog relies heavily these days on technology.