NEW DELHI: In the post-Independence political history of India, there hasn’t been a single instance of an election regulator not only freezing a party’s symbol but also preventing its leaders from using the name of the party for fighting election. The Election Commission of India did precisely that in its interim order in the case of Shiv Sena.
Due to this unprecedented decision, all political parties are said to be in a state of shock. The ECI, it seems, has become the decisive arbiter of political parties for their future existence. Its latest decision is bound to have long-term repercussions.
The commission froze the ‘bow and arrow’ symbol of the Shiv Sena until the competing claims by the two rival factions are decided. In its order, the ECI said that neither of the groups – led by Eknath Shinde and Uddhav Thackeray – would be permitted to use the name or the symbol of Shiv Sena. It said this was done “in order to place both the rival groups on even keel and to protect their rights and interests, and going by the past precedence to cover the purpose of the bye-election of Andheri (East) Assembly seat and to continue till the final determination of the dispute in the matter.” Meanwhile, the ECI recognised both factions as separate political parties.
While Uddhav Thakeray faction was recognised as ‘Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray’ and allotted ‘mashaal’ (flaming torch) symbol, the Eknath Shinde group was identified as ‘Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena’ but it awaits the allotment of a poll symbol with ECI rejecting all its three preferences. The last time the ECI took a similar decision was in October 2021, when it froze the ‘bungalow’ election symbol of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). Like in the case of the Shiv Sena, the intention on that occasion was to ensure that neither of the two factions of the LJP led by Chirag Paswan, son of the late Ram Vilas Paswan, and Pashupati Kumar Paras, the senior Paswan’s brother, could use it in the Assembly byelections in Bihar, which were scheduled for October 30 that year. Before that, tussles over election symbols were witnessed in 2017 in the case of splits in the Samajwadi Party and the AIADMK.
The ECI has been given mandate to decide as to who will get the party symbol. Para 15 of the Symbols Order, 1968 is very clear on this. It applies to disputes in recognised national and state parties. For splits in registered but unrecognised parties, the ECI usually advises the warring factions to resolve their differences internally or to approach the court.
Before 1968, the EC issued notifications and executive orders under the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. The most highprofile split of a party before 1968 was that of the CPI in 1964. A breakaway group approached the ECI in December 1964 urging it to recognise it as CPI (Marxist). The ECI recognised the faction as CPI (M) after it found that the votes secured by the MPs and MLAs supporting the breakaway group added up to more than 4 pc in the three states. In almost all disputes decided by the EC so far, a clear majority of party delegates/office bearers, MPs and MLAs have supported one of the factions. In the case of the Shiv Sena, the majority of the party’s elected representatives have switched over to Shinde’s side.