In an interim order passed recently, the Election Commission of India (ECI) froze the ‘bow and arrow’ election symbol of the Shiv Sena until the competing claims for recognition by the two rival factions is decided.
- The Election Commission has decided that the two factions of the Shiv Sena, led by Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde, would not be allowed to use the party name and symbol till the EC passes a final order on the dispute between them.
- The EC said both the groups would be known by different names of their choosing and would be allotted alternate symbols from the list of free symbols notified by the EC.
- The political crisis in Maharashtra erupted when some of the MLAs of Shiv Sena aligned themselves with the party’s rebel leader.
- Starting in June, the two sides have claimed they represent the real Shiv Sena and have staked claim to the exclusive use of the name and the ‘bow and arrow’ symbol.
- The EC is yet to decide on the issue and the current order was issued due to an urgency to the matter as by-polls had been announced in Maharashtra.
Fight for symbol when party splits –
- When a prominent party splits, a tussle often ensues for its election symbol. This symbol is frequently considered as the embodiment of the identity of the party.
- 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). The LJP had split in June 2021.
- Before that, tussles over the election symbol had been witnessed in 2017 after the Samajwadi Party (Cycle) and the AIADMK (Two leaves) split.
How does the ECI decide who gets the symbol?
- It is decided as per the provisions of the Symbols Order (Reservation and Allotment), 1968.
- Para 15 of the Symbols Order, 1968 empowers EC to decide on the claim of rival factions in case of split.
- EC decides on the issue after taking into account all the available facts and circumstances of the case and hearing their representatives.
- The decision of the Commission shall be binding on all such rival sections or groups.
- This 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.
Is there a way other than the test of majority to resolve a symbol dispute?
- 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.
- Whenever the EC could not test the strength of rival groups based on support within the party organisation (because of disputes regarding the list of office bearers), it fell back on testing the majority only among elected MPs and MLAs.
What happens to the group that doesn’t get the parent party’s symbol?
- Before 1997, EC used to recognise the party, not getting the symbol, based on the criteria fixed for recognition of parties under Paras 6 and 7 of the Symbols Order.
- i.e., if the breakaway party had support of sufficient MPs/MLAs as per the criteria, it was recognised by EC as National/State Party.
- The EC in 1997 felt that merely having MPs and MLAs is not enough, as the elected representatives had fought and won polls on tickets of their parent (undivided) parties.
- The EC introduced a new rule under which the splinter group of the party — other than the group that got the party symbol — had to register itself as a separate party.
- These parties could lay claim to national or state party status only on the basis of its performance in state or central elections after registration.