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Election Symbols in India, Types, Allocation, Criteria

Context: The Election Commission of India refused to allocate the ‘Top’ symbol to the MDMK party in the current Lok Sabha elections.

The Naam Tamilar Katchi has been allotted a new common symbol and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi has been denied a common symbol, raising questions on the allotment of symbols to registered unrecognised political parties (RUPPs).

The Madras High Court ruled that the Election Commission cannot be compelled to allocate the Top symbol to the MDMK Party, which has not contested in at least two parliamentary constituencies.

About Election Symbols

  • In Indian elections, each political party is represented by a unique symbol assigned by the Election Commission of India.
  • These symbols are crucial for voters, especially those who may be illiterate, as they can identify and vote for a party based on its symbol.
  • Some of the top symbols that are widely recognized in Indian politics include
    • Lotus flower: the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),
    • The Hand: Indian National Congress (INC).

Allocation of Election Symbols

  • The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, of 1968 empowers the ECI to allot symbols to political parties.
  • The ECI can decide on disputes among factions/groups/sections of a recognized political party staking a claim to its name and/or symbol, as per the above-mentioned order.
  • The ECI is the only authority to decide on such disputes. The Supreme Court upheld this in the Sadiq Ali Vs ECI case, in 1971.

Types of Election Symbols

Reserved Symbols

  • These are reserved for recognized national and state political parties.
  • Recognized National parties can use their exclusive and reserved symbol across the country.
  • A recognized state party can use its exclusive and reserved symbol in a state in which it is recognized as such.

Free Symbols

The ECI has a pool of 193 ‘free’ symbols (as of June 2023) that are allotted to unrecognised parties and independent candidates.

Election Symbols in India

In India, election symbols play a significant role in the electoral process. The use of symbols helps illiterate voters recognize the party or candidate they want to vote for. Here are some common election symbols used in India:

  1. Indian National Congress: Hand
  2. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP): Lotus
  3. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP): Elephant
  4. Communist Party of India (CPI): Ears of Corn and Sickle
  5. Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)): Hammer, Sickle, and Star
  6. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP): Clock
  7. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP): Broom
  8. Samajwadi Party (SP): Bicycle
  9. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD): Hurricane Lamp
  10. Shiv Sena: Bow and Arrow
  11. Telugu Desam Party (TDP): Bicycle
  12. All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK): Two Leaves
  13. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK): Rising Sun
  14. Trinamool Congress (TMC): Flowers and Grass
  15. Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)): Arrow
  16. Biju Janata Dal (BJD): Conch
  17. All India Trinamool Congress (AITC): Flowers and Grass
  18. Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC): Plough
  19. Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP): Ink Pot and Pen
  20. Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD): Hand Pump

These symbols are allotted by the Election Commission of India to parties based on certain criteria and are aimed at aiding voters, particularly those who may be illiterate, in identifying the party or candidate they wish to vote for on the ballot paper.

Current Issue related to Election Symbols

  • Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK): In 2019 and 2021, NTK secured 3.9% and 6.5% of votes in Tamil Nadu, respectively. It has been allocated the common symbol “Mike” for the upcoming elections, changing from its previous symbol “Ganna Kisan” due to a first-come-first-served rule.
  • Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK): VCK, which secured 1.09% and 0.99% votes in 2019 and 2021, respectively, has been denied the “Pot” symbol for failing to meet the 1% vote requirement in the 2021 State Legislative Assembly elections, despite having elected representatives.

Case of Political Party Split

  • If a recognised political party splits, the Election Commission decides which faction can use the symbol.
  • The Commission may also choose to freeze the symbol and ask both factions to contest in fresh symbols.
  • For splits in registered but unrecognised parties, the ECI usually advises the warring factions to resolve their differences internally or to approach the court.

Criteria for Becoming a State Party

  • Secure at least 6% of the valid votes polled in Assembly elections.
  • Win two seats in Assembly polls or one seat in Lok Sabha polls.


  • Win 3% of seats in the legislative assembly of the State (minimum of 3 seats).
  • Win 1 Lok Sabha seat for every 25 Lok Sabha seats allotted for the State.
  • Poll 8% of votes in a State (either Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly election).

Criteria for Becoming a National Party

  • Be recognized as a State party in at least four States.
  • Secure 6% of the total votes polled in four States (Lok Sabha or Assembly elections) and win four Lok Sabha seats.
  • Win 2% of seats in the Lok Sabha from at least three different States.

Privileges of a Recognized Political Party

  • Reserved party symbol: Ensures easy identification for voters during elections.
  • Free broadcast time: Grants access to state-run media for campaigning.
  • Consultation in election scheduling: Offers influence on election dates.
  • Input on electoral rules: Allows participation in shaping election regulations.
  • Animals as a party symbol have been banned by the ECI since 1990.
  • The elephant symbol of the BSP and the tiger symbol of the Forward Bloc Party were allocated to them before the ban.

Registered Unrecognized Political Parties (RUPPs)

  • Definition: RUPPs are political parties that fall into one of two categories:
    • Newly registered parties
    • Parties that haven’t secured enough votes in elections to become a recognized state party
    • Parties that haven’t contested any elections since registration
  • Common Symbol: During elections, RUPPs can be allotted a “free symbol” to use if they meet certain participation criteria:
    • Contesting in at least two Lok Sabha constituencies (national parliament)
    • Fielding candidates in at least 5% of the seats for a state assembly election
  • Rule 10B of the Symbols Order: This rule specifies that RUPPs are only eligible for the common symbol concession for a maximum of two general elections.
  • Eligibility for Continued Use of Common Symbol: After using the common symbol in two elections, a RUPP can continue using it in future elections if it secures at least 1% of the votes polled in the state during the previous election where it used the common symbol.
  • Maintaining Use of Common Symbol: Maintaining Participation: To retain the common symbol privilege, RUPPs must file an undertaking guaranteeing that they will field candidates in at least 5% of the total seats for a given state assembly election.

Way Ahead

  • The criteria for a party’s recognition might remain unchanged, with recognized parties having the privilege of their candidates being positioned prominently on the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) ballot.
  • However, the ECI could contemplate revising the regulations to allow registered but unrecognised parties that have either received at least 1% of the total votes in the previous election or have a representative elected to the Lok Sabha or State Assembly to choose their common symbol.
    • This adjustment would provide a more equitable recognition of their electoral achievements and contribute to enhancing the democratic process.
Other Important Articles
Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) Chief Election Commissioner And Other Election Commissioner Bill
Know Your Candidate App for Voters Electoral Bonds
Electoral Reforms in India Remote Electronic Voting Machine
Lok Sabha Election 2024
Model Code of Conduct

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