Maharashtra minister Eknath Shinde, who has the support of the majority MLAs of Shiv Sena and is threatening to topple the ruling MVA coalition, may not find it easy to stake claim to the “real” Sena.
While Shinde and the Sena rebels wade through legalities of the anti-defection law, another challenge remains: Of convincing the Election Commission who the real Shiv Sena is. Who will claim the party symbol? That’s the question as the crisis in the state deepens.
The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 deals with the poll body’s power to recognise parties and allot symbols. When the question of a split in a political party arises outside the legislature, paragraph 15 of the Symbols Order, 1968, states: “When the Commission is satisfied… that there are rival sections or groups of a recognised political party, each of whom claims to be that party the Commission may, after taking into account all the available facts and circumstances of the case and hearing (their) representatives… and other persons as desire to be heard, decide that one such rival section or group or none of such rival sections or groups is that recognised political party and the decision of the Commission shall be binding on all such rival sections or groups.”
When a dispute arises, the EC first examines the support each faction enjoys, both within the party’s organisation and its legislature wing. Then it identifies the top committees and decision-making bodies within the political party and proceeds to know how many of its members or office-bearers back which faction. It also counts the number of lawmakers and legislators in each camp.
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This applies to disputes in recognised national and state parties. For splits in registered but unrecognised parties, the EC usually advises the warring factions to resolve their differences internally or to approach the court.
In Maharashtra, the rebel faction claims the support of 41 MLAs and will go knocking on the EC’s door to demand the use of the Sena’s symbol, ‘the bow and arrow’.
When the warring factions belong to a registered and recognised political party, paragraph 15 of the order says the EC can decide in favour of either faction or neither of them.
In the past, one of the most high-profile splits of a party before 1968 was that of the Communist Party of India in 1964. A breakaway group approached the ECI in December 1964, urging it to recognise them as CPI (Marxist). It provided a list of MPs and MLAs of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and West Bengal who supported it. The ECI recognised the faction as CPI (M) after it found that the votes secured by the MPs and MLAs supporting the breakaway group added up to more than 4% in the three states.
More recently, the Samajwadi Party witnessed a bitter split in 2017 when Akhilesh Yadav wrested control from father Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mulayam approached the EC and said he continued to be the party president and the election symbol should remain with his faction. This was contested by the Akhilesh camp, which filed affidavits by various party office-bearers, MPs, MLAs and district presidents to claim that the majority was with the then CM. Eventually, after hearing both sides, the poll body decided to award the cycle symbol to the faction headed by Akhilesh Yadav.
In the case of AIADMK in 2017, factions led by O Panneerselvam and VK Sasikala had staked claim to the AIADMK’s ‘two leaves’ symbol, following which the EC froze it in March 2017. While Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami’s camp revolted against Sasikala to merge with the OPS faction, it was the unified OPS-EPS group that won the symbol in November 2017.
Last year, the EC also barred factions led by Chirag Paswan and Pashupati Kumar Paras from using the name of the Lok Janshakti Party or its symbol ‘bungalow’ until the dispute between the rival groups was settled by the poll panel.
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