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When parties claim the same symbol& role of ECI

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    22nd Jul, 2022

Context

In recent times, various controversies are erupting regarding the claims of different political party over the same party symbol.

About

Election symbols and their significance:

  • An electoral or election symbol is a standardized symbol allocated to a political party.

Types of Election Symbol:

  • As per the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) (Amendment) Order, 2017, party symbols are either “reserved” or “free”.
    • Reserved: Eight national parties and 64 state parties across the country have “reserved” symbols
    • Free: ECI has a pool of nearly 200 “free” symbols. These symbols are allotted to the thousands of unrecognized regional parties in the country.
  • They are used by the parties during their campaigning and are shown on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), where the voter chooses the symbol and votes for the associated party.
  • The symbol of a party is one of extreme relevance to political survival.
  • For many Indian voters who do not read, the symbol is their association with the party when they exercise their franchise. Hence, importance is given to the symbol of the party.

Election Commission’s powers in a dispute over the election symbol when a party splits:

  • The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 empowers the EC to recognize political parties and allot symbols.
  • EC can decide disputes among rival groups or sections of a recognized political party staking claim to its name and symbol.
  • The EC is the only authority to decide issues on a dispute or a merger under the order.

 The Supreme Court (SC) upheld its validity in Sadiq Ali and another vs. ECI in 1971.

  • This applies to disputes in recognized national and state parties.However, if any of the parties is not satisfied then they can approach the courts.

What happens when there is no certainty about the majority of either faction?

  • Where the party is either vertically divided or it is not possible to say with certainty which group has a majority, the EC may freeze the party’s symbol and allow the groups to register themselves with new names or add prefixes or suffixes to the party’s existing names.
  • The EC may take time to gather enough material to decide the question.
  • For immediate electoral purposes, it may freeze the party’s symbol and advise the groups to fight the elections with different names and on temporary symbols.

Position of Judiciary on the Issue:

  • Many of the cases of the split in political parties have landed in the Supreme Court. The most significant case was that of the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1969 where the Supreme Court upheld the order of the ECI applying the test of majority (Sadiq Ali vs ECI, 1972).
  • It was a milestone judgment for the Election Commission as the apex court upheld the constitutional validity of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, giving an executive order the status of subordinate legislation.
  • SC stated that ‘The Commission, in resolving this dispute, does not decide as to which group represents the party, but which group is that party.
  • The Supreme Court has, time and again, upheld the test of majority in the Symbols Order to be a “valuable and relevant test” to decide a dispute between rival groups within a “democratic organization” like a recognized political party.

How does Election Commission decide on party symbol disputes?

  • Approach Election Commission: The EC cannot take Suo moto cognizance of such cases. It can act only when at least one party approaches it with its claim.
  • Evidence produced: Once a claim has been raised with EC, it starts the proceedings by giving notice to the other faction to give its version. Both parties are asked to produce evidence in support of their claim, accompanied by affidavits
  • Scrutiny by Election Commission: The commission will scrutinize whether there are rival sections or groups of a recognized political party as claimed based on the information it possesses. If the commission is satisfied that there exist rival factions within a political party then it decides which faction is a recognized party.
  • Test of majority: The EC employs ‘the test of the majority principle to decide the recognized party. The EC looks at the strength of each group, in the party’s organization and the legislatures. In case EC is not able to determine the strength of rival groups based on support within the party organization, it resorts to testing the majority among elected MPs and MLAs.
  • Binding decision: The decision of the Commission is binding and on all such rivals’ sections or groups. In 1997 the EC introduced a new rule under which while one faction got the party symbol, the other had to register itself as a separate party. The national or state party status of the new formation would be determined only based on its performance in the state or central elections after registration.

Election Commission decision in different scenarios:

When there is no certainty:

  • Where the party is either vertically divided or it is not possible to say with certainty which group has a majority, the EC may freeze the party’s symbol and allow the groups to register themselves with new names or add prefixes or suffixes to the party’s existing names.

When rival factions are reunited in the future:

  • If reunited, the claimants may approach the EC again and seek to be recognized as a unified party.
  • The EC is also empowered to recognize mergers of groups into one entity. It may restore the symbol and name of the original party.

Instances of Parties having the same symbol:

1) Federal Party of Manipur and DravidaMunnetraKazhagam (DMK) use 'Rising Sun' as their symbol.

2) BahujanSamaj Party and AsomGanaParishad have 'Elephant' as their party symbol.

3) Samajwadi Party and Jammu and Kashmir Panthers Party contest on the 'Cycle' symbol in their respective states.

4) Jharkhand MuktiMorcha and Shiv Sena have 'Bow and Arrow' as their election symbol in Jharkhand and Maharashtra respectively.

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