Like the ‘swoosh’ signifies one of the most popular sporting brands in the world, a sherry-glass sticker on a cardboard box represents fragile cargo and the surname ‘Khan’ almost always evokes a random airport screening; election symbols too, play a very important role in aiding recognition and imbuing certain reactions. But in India, this holds especially true for two simple reasons. The first – a majority of every political party’s villager-vote-bank is illiterate. And the second – with the number of uncles, nephews and distant relatives (each representing a different geographical segment) all campaigning for the same political party; voters need a unifying symbol.
Today, the two most popular logos in Indian politics are – the Congress’ ‘hand’, which over the last 20 years has drifted in meaning, from supporting stability and hard-work to quite literally echoing the expression “talk to the hand” – inaccessible and unresponsive. And, the BJP ‘lotus’ logo, which recently earned the party its fair share of flack; with one hard hitting journal even drawing the following comparison – “The BJP symbol, the lotus, grows in muck. I have to believe now that the people of BJP also come from muck.”
These days however, there’s a third symbol. One that’s stood the test of time by being both mulish and malleable (depending on some clever PR). Linked to low-caste communities, well before the Bahujan Samaj Party was formed in 1984, the ‘elephant’ was the logo for the All-India Scheduled Castes Federation in the 1950s. A party for whom affirmative action programs were mandated to counteract the effects of centuries of discrimination under Hinduism’s caste system. And it’s these very communities from whom the BSP gets its support today; popularly known as Dalits. But here’s the twist – according to a popular social historian, Mr. Badri Narayan, “The elephant also has very strong links to Hinduism – the elephant-headed god Ganesh presides over new endeavours. Hence, the BSP is able to evoke their symbol and appeal to upper-caste Hindu voters as well; just like they did in 2007.”
But as diverse and as different as the cultures in India are, so too are its political party symbols – and sometimes they come across as more hilarious than helpful.
Pronouncing the party’s name is no child’s play – unlike their logo. The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Party even comes with a disclaimer – “Safe for children above 2 years of age.”
The members of the Mizoram People’s Conference aren’t exactly the brightest. Adding insult to injury, their bulb – logo isn’t even the eco friendly CFL kind.
The Jharkhand Vikas Morcha is a party that brushes away the ‘kurta-clad neta’ stereo-type, putting the metro in metro-sexual.
Some other ‘extremely impactful and viable’ options offered by the Election Commission to upcoming political parties are – a dress, nail clippers, a toothbrush (with toothpaste), a calculator and a cauliflower.