All eyes on EC for fair decision in Shiv Sena poll symbol case

Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar has the option of freezing the Shiv Sena’s bow and arrow symbol since it is not a national party and other regional parties share the same poll symbol

Election Commission of India (PTI)
Election Commission of India (PTI)

Sujata Anandan / Mumbai

Has Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar already made up his mind about who in the Shiv Sena should get the party symbol of the bow and arrow?

He made a statement in Gujarat today that the rule of the majority should determine the same. Which is as it should be. But as things stand today between the two factions, that does not really mean much – does that require a majority of current legislators whose term might soon be over or does that include party workers, supporters and the respective voterbase of the parties which can only be determined by a grassroots election?

Meanwhile, the ping-pong between Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde continues, with the latter pinching whoever is ready to let down Uddhav even as he continues to hold meetings and inductions into his party from among those people who had so far not associated with the Sena.

Lately, Uddhav has set up a legal wing of his party, heretofore seen as not required, and seems to be getting sound legal advice from eminent lawyers in the state. Shinde has staged a minor coup by poaching Bal Thackeray’s household help right from Matoshree, though it is not sure how much former personal attendants could help against Uddhav. Ditto a nephew, the son of Uddhav’s older brother, who is married to a BJP leader’s daughter and has had no political grounding. 

Nihar Thackeray’s father Bindumadhav was estranged from his own father and was running a discotheque and producing films before his death in a car accident several years ago.

As far as the issue of the symbol goes, the EC could freeze the bow and arrow so far as the Shiv Sena goes for that is also the symbol of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and a lesser-known party in south India. Neither the Shiv Sena nor the JMM are national parties and do not have exclusive rights to the symbol.

The EC allots symbols in different states to parties who do not have claims to another base outside their home turf. While the Shiv Sena has contested polls in Gujarat and Goa without success, it has nothing in Jharkand just as the JMM has no voter base in Maharashtra, thus avoiding confusing their respective voters.

In the past, the EC had allotted the original Congress symbol of the plough and farmer to the old Congress after it first split in 1969. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who had led the split was given the new symbol of the cow and suckling calf.

During the second split in 1978, however, by which time the Congress (O) was history, that symbol was frozen and her faction of the Congress now recognised as the official Congress had to go with the symbol of the palm/hand which continues to be its symbol today, with Sharad Pawar having failed to prove to be head of a majority after splitting the party in 1999. 

The symbols of the national parties (of which there are seven including the two communist parties and the Nationalist Congress Party) are exclusively theirs and are not awarded to any other party anywhere in the country. National parties need to win two per cent of seats in the Lok Sabha from at least three different states and must poll six per cent votes in the Lok Sabha elections plus any four state assemblies in the country, failing which they are derecognised as national parties.

The NCP and Bahujan Samaj Party have ensured this over the years. However, the Communist Party of India is in danger of losing its national status if in 2024, it does not win more than the two seats it currently holds in the Lok Sabha.

When the Communist Party had split in the 1960s, both parties had managed to win the representation of a sickle with other elements on their respective party flags. The innumerous factions of the Janata Dal too have done the same with regard to rural imagery.

While Mrs Gandhi survived the Congress splits and emerged as the main Congress both times, Sharad Pawar who too split the Congress twice did not fare as well. Though reduced to a state party in 1978, he ensured national status since 1999 by contesting in multiple states and getting the minimum percentage of votes required but could not seize the INC for himself.

However, when former Speaker PA Sangma, who had rebelled against the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress along with Pawar, split the NCP, he lost the battle for national status as his faction was limited to the state of Meghalaya. He had to rename his party and could not secure the minimum representation in even the other north-eastern states.

The Shiv Sena has been trying for decades to emerge as a national party, but barring one seat in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly in the 1990s at the peak of the Babri Masjid demolition issue, it has failed to get even the minimum percentage of votes needed in the neighbouring states of Gujarat and Goa.

The bow and arrow symbol, however, is its very identity, appearing on the party standard along with the tiger face. According to sources, the tiger is an option if it loses this battle which in any case is more symbolic of Bal Thackeray’s party – its founder was always referred to as waagh (baagh or tiger). While he and his estranged cousin were known throughout as tiger cubs, the imagery might now be difficult for Shinde to appropriate.

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