Polity & Governance Prelims 2021 Prelims cum Mains

From baby walker to capsicum, how Election Commission decides on party symbols


  • In the upcoming Bihar assembly elections, there are nearly 60 different political parties contesting elections with different symbols.
  • This is an opportunity to understand about how parties are allotted symbols.

Significance of symbols in elections

  • Symbols have become a crucial part of the electoral process ever since India held its first national polls in 1951-52.
  • Since nearly 85 per cent of the electorate were illiterate at that point, visual symbols were allotted to parties and candidates to help them identify the party of their choice.
  • Today, in a vast and diverse country like India, where several small political parties contest in state elections, symbols are crucial campaigning tools to connect with the voters.
  • They also help several unrecognised parties and independent candidates to differentiate themselves from one another.

Types of symbols

  • As per the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) (Amendment) Order, 2017, party symbols are either “reserved” or “free”.
  • For this and other such issues, the EC classifies parties as recognised and unrecognized.
  • A reserved symbol is a symbol reserved for a recognised political party and can be used exclusively by the candidates of that party.
  • There are eight national parties and 64 state parties across the country, who have been allotted “reserved” symbols.
  • The Election Commission (EC) also has a pool of nearly 200 “free” symbols that are allotted to the thousands of unrecognised regional parties that are formed before elections. According to EC, there are 2,538 unrecognised parties in India.

Conditions for recognition as a state party

  • A political party becomes eligible for recognition as a state party if in the last election to the state assembly the party has got 6% of the valid votes and at least two of its candidates was elected to the state’s assembly.
  • Parties getting 3% of total seats or at least three MLAs elected —whichever is more —also get recognised as state parties.
  • Similarly, parties getting 6% of the valid votes in the last Lok Sabha election from the state and getting at least one MP elected from the state or
  • A party that has got one MP elected per 25 contesting candidates from the state in the last Lok Sabha elections will also get recognised as a state party.
  • A party that had won 8% percent or higher of the valid votes in the last state or Lok Sabha election held in the state is also recognized as a state party.

Conditions for recognition as a national party

  • To qualify as a national party, candidates of a party must get more than 6% of valid votes in the last state assembly or Lok Sabha election held in four or more states. Additionally, it should get at least four MPs elected from these states.
  • Parties that have won at least 2% of the total seats in the Lok Sabha elections with candidates getting elected from at least three states also qualify as a national party.
  • In addition, any party that is recognised as a state party in at least four states also qualifies as national party.

Symbol allotment process

  • Through the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, the Election Commission provides for ‘specification, reservation, choice and allotment of symbols’ in the elections.
  • A candidate contesting from a national party at any election is allotted the symbol reserved for the party.
  • Similarly, a candidate of a party recognised as a state party in any particular state is allotted the symbol reserved for that party in all constituencies in that state.
  • To get a free symbol, a party/candidate has to provide a list of three symbols from the EC’s free symbols list at the time of filing nomination papers.
  • Among them, one symbol is allotted to the party/candidate on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Recognised state party contesting elections in another state

  • If a party recognised in a particular state, contests in elections in another state, it can “reserve” the symbol already being used by it.
  • However, this is possible only if that symbol is not reserved for any other recognised state party in that state.
  • Moreover, the symbol should also not be similar to the symbols in use by other parties.
    • For example, it is for this reason that Shiv Sena was not allowed to use its ‘bow and arrow’ symbol for Lok Sabha elections in Bihar, due to its similarity to JD(U)’s symbol.

Split in a party

  • When a recognised political party splits, it is up to the EC to decide which faction represents the original party and allots the symbol accordingly.
  • Examples:
    • When the Samajwadi Party split, the EC allotted the ‘bicycle’ symbol to the Akhilesh Yadav faction.
    • Similarly, following Jayalalithaa’s death, her party AIADMK split into two factions and both the factions had claimed the ‘two leaves’ election symbol. After hearing, the EC allotted the two leaves symbol to the Palaniswami-Panneerselvam faction, ruling that they enjoyed the support of the majority in the AIADMK’s legislative and organisational wings.

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