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EC’s elephantine goof up

Be ready to see the Election Commission (EC) of India doing the impossible – at least attempt it – whenever the next round of elections are held in Tamil Nadu. It would have to try and drape the rising sun for it is the symbol of Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam. For, chances are the voters might be influenced in favour of the DMK. That would be literally a scorcher.

Or, when West Bengal sees a polling next time, the EC may have to use acres and acres of cloth or canvas or paper to hide the grass and flowers everywhere and anywhere because they happen to be how Mamata Didi’s Trinamool Congress is represented on the ballot papers. That would be quite a task for a flower may peep over your garden wall and distract a voter who may want to vote for his traditional choice but seeing it, may change his mind.

The statues of herself and the symbols of her Bahujan Samaj Party, being state-funded led the EC to order their draping. AFP

Similarly, all hand pumps would have to be hidden from the voters in Uttar Pradesh for they are the official symbol for the Rashtriya Lok Dal much like the bicycle is to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. Each and every chair in Uttarakhand, including the election officers’ would have to be wrapped up kept away because it is the Kranti Dal’s identifier.

By the same logic, the EC has set the agenda for itself. In Assam during polls, there would be because it is the Asom Gana Parishad’s election symbol. North East has its share of the country’s pachyderm population. It is also the Sikkim Sangram Parishad’s. J&K’s National Panther’s Party, Kerala Congress, Manipur’s People’s Congress, have bicycles.

This list of options for the EC to act determinedly can go working on for all the symbols in vogue assigned to each and every political party are among those items with which a common Indian, literate or illiterate, can identify and given the intensity and effectiveness of the campaign by the parties, recognise – much like putting a face to a name.

But when the EC ordered, on the premise that the stone and metal elephants which behen Mayawati erected across Uttar Pradesh would give her the edge while the field for electoral contests are meant to be level-playing, it bit more than it can chew. If and when she asks the EC to ensure that each and every bicycle on rural and urban roads, or just parked leaning on a way-side chai shop also be banished from view, the absurdity of it all would hit it with a wallop.

Apparently, the statues of herself and the symbols of her Bahujan Samaj Party, being state-funded led the EC to order their draping. She can easily argue that the ubiquitous bicycles would at least have one among them which is state-funded: for some lowly employee to carry messages perhaps between the sarpanch and the block development officer. EC would be hard put to locate it among the millions of them.

After all, since level-playing field is what the EC is after, her arch-rival Samajwadi Party should be even-handedly treated. Doesn’t Mulayam Singh Yadav ritually ride a bicycle every election during the campaign, even if it is for a short distance before he prefers a high-powered car after emphasising the link between him, his party and the symbol on which the voter has to stamp his preference? It would be hard for the EC to wriggle out of it.

Let us go back to the elephants which stuck like a bone in the EC’s throat. Would it also deal with the two which the Lucknow Zoo sent off to the Dudhwa National Park in Lakhimpur district and Katarniya Ghat National Park in Bahraich in 2010? Voters who glimpse them on a visit could be easily influenced in favour of the behenji. The EC, one would imagined, be stymied with the proposition.

The genius of Sukumar Sen, the country’s first Chief Election Commissioner who conducted the first general elections opted for the symbols on ballot papers since the country was largely illiterate. Symbols enabled identify a party and a candidate. The symbol had to be understandable, had to be from the everyday life of the country and its common man. Hence the now defunct pair of bulls with a plough and a farmer was the symbol of the Congress then.

Since illiteracy has not been eradicated, the symbols remain. The political parties need to propagate the link between the symbol and the party to win the vote. That is why they chose the easiest to recognise – a tribal outfit would never opt for an aeroplane for two reasons: the tribal population would not recognise what beast it was, and the shapes of the aircrafts change so often. Not all of them are crudely drawn Dakotas.

Across the country, the cock, the drum, the bus, arrow, two leaves, the ladder, the star, mango, represent a political party or two.

And in an agrarian country aspiring to be industrial, there is the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s hammer, sickle and star, and the Communist party’s ears of corn and sickle would pose a huge logistical problem. Then we have the clock of the Nationalist Congress Party. And then, there is the Indian National Congress’s the hand.

How would the EC deal with them?

The EC would presumably dismiss draping the rising sun, wrapping the chairs, blanketing the grass and flowers etc as absurd. But it would not be much different from the need to use 1.5 km of plastic to cover 30 stone and 22 bronze elephants at the Rashtriya Dalit Prerana Sthal even as her statues are to be covered in khakhi – a colour which represents no political party but the law-enforcers on which EC depends to keep order. UP has any number of her statues and the three-dimensional representation of her party’s symbol.

Perhaps the EC was overzealous about its responsibilities with regard to ensuring fair play in Uttar Pradesh, perhaps quite a contentious elections among the five states where polls are to be held next month but has not thought through the possible consequences. With the ECI, as with the courts, there are precedents which are cited in disputes, where orders are what have to be implicitly carried out.

Clearly, the decision to drape the elephants has been the EC’s elephantine goof up.

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