The importance and significance of the party emblem was once again highlighted on Thursday when the Election Commission allotted the AIADMK’s “Two Leaves” symbol to the faction headed by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E.K. Palaniswami, and his second in command, O. Paneerselvam, while rejecting the claim of jailed Jayalalithaa aide, V.K. Sasikala and her nephew T.T.V. Dinakaran. The Crest, in fact, represents the identity of the party so far as the voters and supporters are concerned and, therefore, it is being construed as a major victory for the present Chief Minister, who has already hailed the verdict and described it as palpable proof of the majority support he and his associates enjoy amongst the people and their representatives.

The symbol debate has always held a special meaning in the electoral arena and the Samajwadi Party, which was nurtured by Mulayam Singh Yadav, veteran politician, also figured in a dispute when Akhilesh Yadav took command of the organisation while sidelining his uncle and several other seniors. Luckily for Akhilesh, he has managed to retain the seal with the other sect meekly giving in.

However, the most combative insignia wrangle took place during the 1971 Parliamentary election, when Indira Gandhi, who had caused a virtual split in the Congress in 1969 contested on the cow-and-calf symbol (its design was finalised at the Tej office in Delhi by its cartoonist/illustrator Manik Pandey), provided to her faction by the Election Commission. Her group was headed by Babu Jagjivan Ram and popularly was called Congress (R), which led people to believe that it was the real Congress. The original Congress symbol of dual bullocks hauling a yoke on which the party had won four Parliamentary polls in 1952, 1957, 1962 and 1967, was allocated to the Congress (Organisation) led by S. Nijalangappa and backed by stalwarts like Morarji Desai, S.K. Patil, K. Kamaraj, Atulya Ghosh and Neelam Sanjiva Reddy. This clique was perceived by the general masses as the Congress (Old).

Indira Gandhi contested the election with a pro-left image, after having nationalised banks, while initiating the proposal to abolish the privy purses of the royals. All her major opponents formed a Grand Alliance against her, and the Congress (O), Swatantra Party, the Socialist Party and Bharatiya Jana Sangh contested on their respective badges and were routed in the polls fought on Indira’s slogan of Garibi Hatao, coined for her by a Delhi college English lecturer, Ashok Chatterjee, who later went on to become a member of the Metropolitan Council from Gole Market.

The Congress, led by her in the 1977 polls, retained the cow and calf symbol, yet suffered a major setback at the hands of her opponents, who went into the ring on the common symbol of a farmer with a plough, which was furnished to them by the Bharatiya Lok Dal, led by Chaudhury Charan Singh. A segment of the Congress headed by Babu Jagjivan Ram, H.N. Bahuguna and Nandini Sathpathy—which broke away barely a month before the polls—also made the BLD insignia as their logo.

This definitely was not the end of the Congress symbol war and following the third split in January 1978, when Indira Gandhi was expelled by the dominant group in Parliament spearheaded by Yashwant Rao Chavan and K. Brahmananda Reddy, the search for a new symbol was launched. The cow and calf seal was frozen and thereby Indira Gandhi selected the hand, which was originally the emblem of the Forward Bloc (Ruikar group). The Election Commission was in two minds, but after Bansi Lal Mehta, an AICC member from Delhi, persuaded his close friend S.L. Shakdhar, the CEC, the hand was supplied to the Indira Congress. The Charkha badge was provided to the other side.

In fact, the hand proved beneficial, as the first poll contested by the Congress (I) in 1978 was won from a municipal ward of East Delhi. Subsequently, Mohsina Kidwai emerged as the first victor on the hand symbol in a Parliamentary byelection, when she defeated her mentor and veteran leader Chandrajit Yadav from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh. Indira Gandhi, too, contested and triumphed on this very symbol from Chikamaglur in Karnataka, defeating Veerendra Patil of the Janata Party. Even today, the symbol is the mascot of the Congress.

The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which commenced its journey in the 1950s and 1960s as an upcoming right-wing party, used to contest elections on the lamp (diya or deepak) symbol. Its major victory was in 1967, when it won six out of seven seats in Delhi, and swept to power both in the municipal corporation and metropolitan council polls in the capital, besides making substantial gains in other North Indian states. The Jana Sangh merged into the Janata Party, later resurfacing in 1980 in a new avatar—the Bharatiya Janata Party. The lotus symbol was designated to it, and so far, has worked as a lucky charm.

The Communist Party of India continues to carry on with ears of corn and a sickle as its emblem. The CPI(M), which was an off-shoot, however, adopted the hammer and sickle symbol as its identification in the electoral zone. Many parties that now are extinct have their symbols frozen in the archives of the Election Commission. The star crest of the Swatantra Party and the tree motif of the Socialist Party, have become an integral part of history. Thus, the significance of symbols is paramount. Between us.

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