How did the Election Commission decide who would receive a Party Symbol?

The Election Commission of India has officially recognised a faction within a political party led by the Maharashtra Chief Minister as the legitimate group. For future elections, the faction has been given the “bow and arrow” symbol and the original name.

Why are we debating this?

  • Election symbol allotment can have a significant impact on political parties’ electoral fortunes, and the current system of allotment may need to be reviewed to ensure greater transparency and fairness.

The Election Commission’s Authority in the Election Symbol Dispute

  • Paragraph 15 of the Symbols Order, 1968 addresses the issue of a political party split outside of the legislature.
  • It states that the Election Commission of India (ECI) may conduct a majority test based on all available facts and circumstances.
  • The ECI’s decision is binding on all rival sections or groups that emerged after the split.
  • This applies to recognised national and state parties in disputes.
  • When registered but unrecognised parties split, the EC usually advises the warring factions to settle their differences internally or go to court.

How did the EC handle such issues before the Symbols Order went into effect?

  • Prior to 1968, the EC issued notifications and executive orders in accordance with the 1961 Conduct of Election Rules.
  • Prior to 1968, the most visible party split was that of the CPI in 1964.
  • In December 1964, a breakaway group petitioned the ECI to recognise them as CPI (Marxist). They provided a list of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and West Bengal MPs and MLAs who supported them.
  • The ECI recognised the faction as CPI (M) after discovering that the votes secured by the breakaway group’s MPs and MLAs totaled more than 4% in the three states.

Alternatives for ECI

  • The ECI can almost certainly freeze the symbol so that neither side can use it until a final decision is made.
  • The EC hearings are lengthy and detailed, and they can last up to six months.

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

  • In 1969, it was the first split in the Indian National Congress.
  • Indira Gandhi’s feud with a rival faction within the party erupted on May 3, 1969, with the death of President Dr Zakir Hussain.
  • Is there another way to settle a dispute over election symbols besides the majority vote?
  • So far, a clear majority of party delegates/office bearers, MPs, and MLAs have supported one of the factions in almost all disputes decided by the EC.
  • When the EC was unable to assess the strength of rival groups based on support within the party organisation (due to disagreements over the list of office bearers), it resorted to assessing the majority only among elected MPs and MLAs.

What happens if a group does not receive the parent party’s symbol?

  • In 1997, the EC refused to recognise the new parties as either state or national parties.
  • It appeared that simply having MPs and MLAs was insufficient, as the elected representatives had fought and won elections on behalf of their parent (undivided) parties.
  • The EC enacted a new rule requiring any splinter group of the party — other than the group that received the party symbol — to register as a separate party.
  • It could only claim national or state party status based on its performance in state or central elections following registration.
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