New Delhi: At 1.3 billion people, India is the world’s largest and arguably the most chaotic democracy. Elections are a complicated logistical exercise that blends colorful pageantry with more serious political issues.
A village fair atmosphere takes over rural India as people troop to the nearest voting stations. Five key states, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand, are currently in the middle of elections to choose local legislatures. The voting began February 4 and ends on March 8. Votes from all the state polls will be counted on March 11. Many symbols are been allocated to the growing number of parties and independent candidates.
A bottle, an air conditioner, a television set, a lantern, an arrow, a bicycle, a loaf of bread: these are not shopping items but some of the many objects voters will see on the electronic voting machines as symbols for the dozens of political parties and independent candidates in the fray.
Symbols have been allocated to political parties since India’s first national election in 1951. Since barely a fifth of the population could read or write in the early 1950s, the symbols were introduced on ballot papers to help the unlettered cast their votes. Nearly three-quarters of Indians can now read but the icons remain evocative symbols of the major political groups.
India’s best-known political symbols are the lotus flower for the governing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the outstretched hand or palm for the main opposition Congress party. The newest political party in the country, the Aam Aadmi Party, or the Common Man’s Party, chose the broom as its election symbol, reflecting their claim that they mean to sweep clean the political system.
The choice of symbols still available for selection with the country’s independent Election Commission includes an electric pole, cricket bat, pliers and even food items including a coconut and a cauliflower. Also available are a toothbrush and nail clippers.