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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Cow & Calf - Election Symbols

India is a democracy  ~ the electoral process in such a large country of crores of people is difficult to handle.  As Election dates are announced, each party tries to reach out to voters with their symbols painted everywhere !! 

A picture of a Cow and a calf, not sure of their relationship taken sometime back at Triplicane .. .. and something on election symbol, remember Congress had ‘Pasuvum Kanrum’ as its election symbol !!


Decades ago, Independent India elected those who would rule them. India’s first elections and the promise was for universal adult franchise, unqualified by considerations of literacy. Today that is a part of democracy that we take for granted, but it was far from being that way before India showed it was possible over those few months in 1951-52 when those first elections took place. 

However, this was not to be the first election to take place across the subcontinent. The British had conducted polls in 1920 as part of the limited democracy promised by the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms that were made concrete in the Government of India Act, 1919. This provided for a Central Legislature made up of both nominated and elected members in different communal categories. But the Act limited the electorate to men only and only those who owned land or paid taxes of a certain value. 

Would be hard to believe but Srilanka influenced the way of Indian elections.  The information on elections in Ceylon was provided by Sir Bernard Bourdillon, the Colonial Secretary of Ceylon, who must count as an important influencer of Indian elections. Bourdillon, an ICS official with progressive views, who would go on to become an admired Governor of Nigeria, had overseen the creation of a system where any Ceylonese who wished to vote simply had to register (no voting list was created, a key difference with the later Indian system) and then could vote in the symbol system. 

In July 1951 the EC called meetings with parties to decide on symbols, and at once squabbles broke out. On July 2nd, the Times of India reported how at the first meeting the Congress, Socialist, Communist and Peasants & Workers Parties all laid claim to the plough symbol. The Socialists were particularly annoyed why “the Congress which has always been represented by a ‘charkha’ today chose to have the plough…” The EC found itself having to decide on symbol allotment, something that was to become a constant role for it. 

The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 empowers the Election Commission to recognise political parties and allot symbols. An electoral or election symbol is a standardized symbol allocated to a political party. The symbols  were introduced to facilitate voting by illiterate people, who can’t read the name of the party while casting their votes. 

Last year in Oct, Apex Court  refused to entertain a petition filed by the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) party in Telangana, challenging the allotment of election symbols to two other parties.  BRS argued that the symbols of ‘road roller’ and ‘chapatti roller’, which were allotted to a ‘Yuga Thulasi Party’ and ‘Alliance of Democratic Reforms Party’ respectively, looked similar to BRS’s symbol of a car. This might confuse the voters during elections, it said. However, the SC declined the petition, saying voters were intelligent enough to differentiate between the symbols. 

Not many would know that the Election Commission in 1971 had allotted the symbol of a cow and calf to the Congress party then led by Indira Gandhi. The charge against Gandhi, argued in court by Shanti Bhushan, Raj Narain’s counsel, was that she was invoking Hindu sentiment by using the cow and calf symbol. To understand better, the Congress that ruled after Independence is not the same party that Gandhi headed and fought freedom struggle.  …. And it has seen many splits, everytime when the dynasty is questioned. 

After the Congress split in 1969, the faction led by Indira Gandhi took  a conscious turn towards socialism. Interestingly, the new symbol of the breakaway faction led by Gandhi was that of a cow suckling its calf.  In 1969, Congress again faced internal conflicts. After the death of Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister. She decided to break out and form a new party. With majority of the Congress party members in support of her in the new party which was named Congress (Requisitionists), the other Congress came to be called Congress (Organisation).  The party’s symbol was bullocks – when it was gone, Ms Indira Gandhi turned to cow. Cries of hurting religious sentiments were raised soon after the symbol was allotted and it prompted then Chief Election Commissioner S P Sen Varma later to record in an official account on the elections that it was “difficult to accept the view that cow represents Hindu religion”. Post Emergency, Indira’s leadership once again came to be questioned within the party and she decided to split the party again; her faction came to be called Congress (Indira).  This time, EC gave the party  three choices – an elephant, a bicycle and an open palm.  With the leader away in AP, Buta Singh and others chose Hand – open palm as   easily recognisable.  

What was buried deep was the fact that a similar symbol had been sought by the Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad in the 1952 elections but was refused by the Election Commission on the ground that it was a religious symbol.  The Commission specifically mentioned the cow as one of the objects having a religious association. The same Commission which had refused to allot the symbol of a cow to the Parishad in 1952 on the ground that it was a religious symbol allotted it to the ruling Congress party.’  .. ..and in case, you want to read some more history, the Congress party that was founded in Dec 1885,  at Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College in Bombay, by AO Hume and the party symbol during Jawaharlal Nehru era was   two bullocks carrying a yoke. 

In neighbouring Pakistan, elections were hard fought with parties  campaigning, plastering walls with propaganda posters. But the symbol of a popular party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), was to be missing, thanks to an unprecedented crackdown on the PTI and its jailed leader, former Prime Minister Imran Khan. Khan’s party was  barred from using the party symbol – and it was bat !!

With regards – S Sampathkumar

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