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MCD elections: Free poll symbols add to electoral heat in the capital

From a bat to peanuts and grapes, poll symbols have come a long way in Indian electoral history; they have also created rifts among parties and within families

delhi Updated: Apr 17, 2017 07:02 IST
Prawesh Lama
Prawesh Lama
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
POll symbols,Voters,Election Commission
The EC has allotted over 80 ‘free symbols’ to 1,174 independent candidates — not registered with any recognised political party.(HT Photo)

Sixty-six years ago when the first general election was held and a large number of voters were illiterate, poll symbols were introduced. Symbols, which looked straight out of a kindergarten book – a bat, a ball, house, window, shoes, a pair of scissors. They were meant to be simple. Voters, who could barely read or write their names, would identify their candidates through these symbols.

In 2017, as Delhi goes to vote again, election symbols have increased and come in varied shapes and sizes — a coconut to a coconut farm, a peanut to a cauliflower, and dumbbells to diamonds.

The EC has allotted over 80 ‘free symbols’ to 1,174 independent candidates — not registered with any recognised political party.

While one independent candidate chose a batsman, another went for a bat. Yet another candidate opted for a palanquin. Items including an air-conditioner and an air-cooler have also been allotted to individuals.

There are eatables too on the list. Don’t be surprised if you see pictures of a green chilli, peanut, grapes or a biscuit on the EVM buttons next to the candidate’s name.

On the Election Commission’s website, the symbols, along with their hand-drawn sketches are attached for reference to be used by candidates while campaigning.

Looking at some symbols, it appears that the commission ran out of ideas and added just a streak or two to the already existing symbols. There is a plate, a plate containing food and plates stand — allotted to different candidates. There is a fruit and a basket containing fruits. To avoid confusion, some similar looking symbols such as a diesel pump, a hand pump, and a petrol pump have not been assigned in the same area.

There are also symbols, difficult to sketch such as the ‘hurricane lamp, plastering towel’ or a coconut farm. A slate, once used in schools, may be a thing of the past but still exists as a notified symbol. A candidate in north Delhi has been allotted one. Internet and email may have made hand-written letters and post boxes outdated but the post box still remains a registered symbol and in use, every election.

Retired IAS officer Rakesh Mehta, who served as state chief election commissioner, explains the story of symbols. “The first election commissioner Sukumar Sen adopted the idea of using symbols because half the voters could not read names on ballot papers. The symbols are approved by the Election Commission and have been of a certain size.”

Symbols have also caused a rift among parties when they insist on using the same one. In 2012 Delhi MCD election, a similar problem arose before Mehta. “The Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party and the Samajwadi Party were contesting in Delhi. In their respective states, they use bicycle as their symbols. It was a problem when they chose to contest in the same election and approached the commission. I told them to sort it themselves.”

In the run-up to the municipal elections, former AAP member and psephologist Yogendra Yadav approached Delhi high court challenging Election Commission’s refusal to allow a common symbol for his party — Swaraj India. The high court denied Swaraj India a common poll symbol saying it was a registered but unrecognised party. The EC, however, later allowed the party contestants to use whistle as their symbol.

Former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and his father Mulayam Singh Yadav reached EC staking claim over use of the bicycle as the party symbol after a family feud.

At least 17 political parties, which have registered symbols, such as the lotus for BJP, palm for Congress and broom for AAP among others, are contesting across the 272 wards in Delhi. Over the years, newer symbols have been added to the list. In January, symbols such as dumbbells, headphones, walnut, room were among the 27 symbols added to the list. There are 164 free symbols today

In 2012, when None of the Above (NOTA) was made an option for voters, the EC approached National Institute of Design to prepare a symbol for NOTA.

“The free symbol booklet is assigned to returning officers in each ward. Independent candidates cannot use the symbol after the election. Because independent candidates outnumber the registered candidates, free symbols are shared. Around 40% contesting elections in Delhi are independents,” said an election official.

First Published: Apr 16, 2017 07:17 IST