Electoral Reforms In India

How did Election Commission decide who gets Party Symbol?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Election symbols

Mains level: Read the attached story

Central idea: A faction within a political party led by the Maharashtra CM has been officially recognized as the legitimate group by the Election Commission of India. The faction has been allotted the “bow and arrow” symbol and the original name for use in future elections.

Why discuss this?

  • The allotment of election symbols can have a significant impact on the electoral fortunes of political parties and that the current system of allotment may need to be reviewed to ensure greater transparency and fairness.

EC’s powers in Election Symbol Dispute

  • The question of a split in a political party outside the legislature is dealt by Para 15 of the Symbols Order, 1968.
  • It states that the Election Commission of India’s (ECI) may take into account all the available facts and circumstances and undertake a test of majority.
  • The decision of the ECI shall be binding on all such rival sections or groups emerged after the split.
  • This applies to disputes in recognized national and state parties.
  • For splits in registered but unrecognized parties, the EC usually advises the warring factions to resolve their differences internally or to approach the court.

How did the EC deal with such matters before the Symbols Order came into effect?

  • Before 1968, the EC issued notifications and executive orders under the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
  • The most high-profile split of a party before 1968 was that of the CPI in 1964.
  • A breakaway group approached the ECI in December 1964 urging it to recognize them as CPI(Marxist). They provided a list of MPs and MLAs of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and West Bengal who supported them.
  • The ECI recognized the faction as CPI (M) after it found that the votes secured by the MPs and MLAs supporting the breakaway group added up to more than 4% in the 3 states.

Options for ECI

  • The ECI in all likelihood can freeze the symbol so that neither of the two sides is able to use it until a final decision is made.
  • EC hearings are long and detailed and may take at least six months.

What was the first case decided under Para 15 of the 1968 Order?

  • It was the first split in the Indian National Congress in 1969.
  • Indira Gandhi’s tensions with a rival group within the party came to a head with the death of President Dr Zakir Hussain on May 3, 1969.

Is there a way other than the test of the majority to resolve a dispute over election symbols?

  • In almost all disputes decided by the EC so far, a clear majority of party delegates/office bearers, MPs and MLAs have supported one of the factions.
  • Whenever the EC could not test the strength of rival groups based on support within the party organization (because of disputes regarding the list of office bearers), it fell back on testing the majority only among elected MPs and MLAs.

What happens to the group that doesn’t get the parent party’s symbol?

  • The EC in 1997 did not recognize the new parties as either state or national parties.
  • It felt that merely having MPs and MLAs is not enough, as the elected representatives had fought and won polls on tickets of their parent (undivided) parties.
  • The EC introduced a new rule under which the splinter group of the party — other than the group that got the party symbol — had to register itself as a separate party.
  • It could lay claim to national or state party status only on the basis of its performance in the state or central elections after registration.


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