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Hiding poll symbols: EC's return to sanity

October 30, 2013 13:44 IST

By calling the Congress demand for covering lotus ponds absurd, ridiculous, the EC has done well. After all, even despite occasional lapses, there are wise men around, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

The Central Election Commission has rightly dismissed the demand that lotus ponds in Madhya Pradesh be covered during the electioneering now underway for the state assembly as being absurd, even “an insult to the intelligence of the voter”.

The Times of India quoted an EC official saying, "The Congress's reasoning that lotus ponds can swing the poll in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has 'lotus' as its poll symbol, is ‘ridiculous’". True, for every symbol cannot be hidden away.

That is a mindset change for the EC which conducts flawless elections except on two counts: inability to check massive spending beyond the stipulated limits, and some errors in the voters’ lists. During the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, it had ordered hiding of the statues of Mayawati and elephants.

The Congress plea to cover all lotus ponds arose from a hope that EC would agree to it readily because it had mandated that every statue of Mayawati, herself a candidate, and statues of elephants in the numerous Ambedkar parks in UP be covered to ensure a level-playing field.

The lotus is the BJP’s election symbol as well as the logo. On a lighter note, the Congress perhaps may have not realised that every time a BJP leader waved to the crowds from the dais, he was displaying the Congress symbol -- the palm!

The elephant is the Bahujan Samaj Party’s symbol and it was assumed that leaving them open would lend an edge to her party in the polls. It is hard to say if that decision led fair play, but it drew attention to the symbol more than her own campaigns to popularise it had.

The then CEC, S Y Quraishi had argued differently. The costs of covering them up “cannot be the consideration. The principle has to be enforced.” Poll codes “do not make a distinction on account of cost". Mayawati rued it, called it “anti-Dalit” but he stayed the ground.

It is good that the EC has collectively changed its mind. We do not know if the “cover em-up” majority of then is now in a minority but at least common sense has prevailed. Imagine to what ludicrous situation the country, or parts of it, can land up in during election times.

Suppose if the EC were to ban the brooms’ visibility in Delhi whose new assembly is being elected. It is the Aaam  Aadmi Party’s election symbol like the lotus is of the BJP and the hand is of the Congress. It could be chaotic, in the least making Delhi dirtier.

Perhaps, it is because Congress does not want to make such a demand because, publicly, it says AAP is not a credible player in the triangular elections. The BJP, however, has indicated AAP could be a risk to its fortunes and has asked voters to avoid the AAP.

By the same argument of the Quraishi EC, then no hand should be in sight. Should they be lopped off, hidden in one’s pocket at all time when a person is in public? Or the Indian Railways halt trains and drape them for engine is yet another symbol in vogue.

If the country had not progressed from an almost agrarian status to being industrial and tech-savvy, and Congress had the older symbol of a pair of oxen with a lough, maybe all draught animals, farming would come to a halt when elections are announced.

Symbols were chosen to mark out parties in the first elections after Independence itself mainly because of the huge illiteracy. Six decades later, despite improved statistics, there are illiterates, and even simple, folk around who need the help of symbols. Denying that would eliminate fairness.

Literacy statistics in India, despite its upward ticks, is still fraught because those who can write and read their names are considered literate. The slide of the numbers after every adult literacy campaign promoting functional literacy is a fact. Regression into illiteracy is not small.

The symbols chosen, listed and assigned by the Election Commission to parties has a rationale. They are of common things, easily recognised and remembered, and at the polling booths, easily recalled, linking the identity of the party, the candidate and his symbol.

The Communists got the sickle, which also is widely used in the country. The corn in a symbol also has a basis in logic. The others are of a similar genre -- one that people come across in their daily lives though some of them may no more be as much in vogue.

Some symbols may however need to be abandoned. The dial-type telephone or the push-button ones would ring no bell even in remote parts of India. Perhaps the almost ubiquitous cell phone should replace them. Their number pad is departing, making room for touch-screens.

But yes, the EC’s return to sanity is welcome. Or it may be pointlessly engaged more in covering the common objects -- which is why the symbols were selected picked from them -- across the country, including in the skies than conducting elections. Aeroplanes, rockets, and once for the Swatantra Party, the star, were symbols.

Hiding them would be impossible. If done, the country could well come to a halt. By calling the Congress demand for covering lotus ponds absurd, ridiculous, the EC has done well. After all, even despite occasional lapses, there are wise men around.


Mahesh Vijapurkar