What’s in a symbol

Election symbols seem to be frozen in time,while life and politics move on.

Written by The Indian Express | Published: December 5, 2013 1:18 am

Election symbols seem to be frozen in time,while life and politics move on.

In Delhi on Wednesday,the hand battled the broom while the lotus appeared to loom large. But the more pragmatic voter’s eye might have strayed to other symbols on the EVM — a gas cylinder,for instance,or a pressure cooker or a sewing machine. Epicureans could choose from cake,ice-cream and bananas. In the Chhattisgarh assembly elections last month,a glass tumbler,a saw,a slate and a diesel pump were in the running. Apart from the familiar symbols of state and national parties,election time throws up an array of little-known symbols,something for every voter. Or that was the idea,at least.

Independent candidates and registered unrecognised parties can choose their symbols from a free list of 100 symbols circulated by the Election Commission before the polls. Only six of the symbols on this list are reserved by national parties. The icons on this list were all drawn by the same draughtsman,the late M.S. Sethi,who retired from the EC in 1992. Dreamt up decades ago by EC officials in sleepy afternoon meetings,these icons were meant to be daily objects the voter could identify with. In post-Independence India,these included neckties and nail cutters. But the list has remained frozen since the late-1990s,and many of the objects that crowd the daily life of aspirational India are missing — cell phones and microwaves,for example. The BJP has found its own way towards a makeover,introducing a new and improved lotus with bolder outlines.

The restricted number of symbols has also forced different parties to choose the same icon. So,the bicycle may stand for the SP’s Hindi heartland machismo in Uttar Pradesh,the TDP’s brand of populism in Andhra Pradesh and the Kerala Congress’s regionalism. Given a wider choice,the parties might have picked differently. The SP,for one,may want to update its symbol to a laptop.

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