Context: In the upcoming Bihar assembly, apart from  lotus, arrow, the hand and hurricane lantern, voters can also expect to see a myriad of other symbols like chapati roller, dolli, bangles, capsicum on the ballots.

More on the news: 

With nearly 60 different parties contesting the Bihar election, the symbols help the several unrecognised parties and independent candidates differentiate themselves from one another and help voters identify the party of their choice. 

Different types of symbols:

  • Reserved or Free: As per the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) (Amendment) Order, 2017, party symbols are either reserved or free.
    • Reserve symbols: If a party is recognised in a particular state contest elections in another state, it can reserve the symbol being used by it, provided the symbol is not being used or bears resemblance to that of any other party.
      • Currently, eight national parties and 64 state parties across the country have reserved symbols. 
    • Free symbols: The Election Commission also has a pool of nearly 200 “free” symbols that are allotted to the thousands of unrecognised regional parties that pop up before elections.

How are symbols allotted to political parties?

  • The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) (Amendment) Order: First promulgated in 1968, mandates the EC to provide for specification, reservation, choice and allotment of symbols at parliamentary and assembly elections, for the recognition of political parties. 
  • As per the guidelines: To get a symbol allotted, a party or candidate has to provide a list of three symbols from the EC’s free symbols list at the time of filing nomination papers. 
    • Among them, one symbol is allotted to the party or candidate on a first-come-first-serve basis.
  • In case of split: When a recognised political party splits, the Election Commission takes the decision on assigning the symbol. For example, when the Samajwadi Party split, the EC allotted the ‘bicycle’ to the Akhilesh Yadav faction.

Significance of symbols in elections:

  • A crucial campaigning tool: To connect with the voters. 
  • A crucial part of the electoral process: Visual symbols were allotted to parties and candidates to help voters (especially illiterate voters) to identify the party of their choice.

Image Source: TH