Monday, May 11, 2009

Open Magazine: Why election symbols are weird

Among the 59 symbols released by the Election Commission for this year’s elections were a batsman, a frock, a shuttlecock, a fork, and a doli. The EC does not create symbols, it only approves and standardizes their appearance. For unregistered parties and independents late to file their nominations, it offers this list of free symbols. “These symbols were created a long time ago,” says KF Wilfred, the secretary. “They were done by someone who knew drawing.”

While the exact source of these symbols is unknown, Wilfred says the EC has a large number of images to choose from – the result of over a thousand candidates filing their papers during a 1989 Tamil Nadu election. Over a thousand symbols were created. “We’ve trimmed that list significantly to make it more relevant,” Wilfred says. “If one guy wanted one glass, another wanted two glasses. If one wanted a mango for his Mango Party, another wanted an apple because it confused voters. There was also a cycle and a motorcycle.” Also removed were symbols that made sense only in one state.

The EC now has a list of approximately 200 to choose from (The choices are also rather limited. Which could lead to interesting combinations, such as an alliance between the parties with the frying pan, the gas stove, and the gas cylinder).

The list is an example of political correctness taken to extremes; nobody could claim to be offended by any symbol without sounding silly. How to be annoyed by a diesel pump or a comb, or a road roller? And this, when the EC releases symbols, is the body’s mandate. “A symbol should not have religious connotations,” said Wilfred. “It should not depict violence, nor should it have animals and birds.” The body took a call on animals and birds in 1990 after petitioners complained that parties were using dead parrots and doves on a string during their campaigns. “Nearly everybody with an animal symbols agreed to use a new one, but you still see the elephant and the lion around.”


Siddharth said...

Wonderful story. Do you know if a repository of the symbols exists online or in print?

Rahul Bhatia said...

Siddharth, these symbols are preserved in files at the EC office in New Delhi. It didn't sound like they had got around to digitizing anything.

Siddharth said...

Thanks! Maybe on my next visit to Delhi I will try to pay a visit to inspect them.