On Monday, 3rd April 2017, the Delhi High Court refused to stay the decision of the Delhi State poll panels’ decision of not allotting a common symbol to all candidates of Swaraj India, a relatively newly formed political party which wants to contest the upcoming Municipal Elections in Delhi.

Swaraj India was formed in October 2016 as a registered political party and Prof Yogendra Yadav and Mr Prashant Bhushan are some of its’ important leaders. However, it is not a political party “recognised” according to the criteria of the Election Commission of India, since it does not yet have any seats in the Parliament or any State Assembly. It wants to contest the Delhi Municipal elections for which the polling is to be held on April 23, 2017.

An election symbol is very important especially in India, since it helps people identify candidates belonging to a political party. It helps political parties to print common manifestos and seeking for votes for its candidates in various constituencies during an election. There are precedents where all the candidates of a newly formed political party contesting an election have been allotted a common symbol. But the Delhi state poll panel’s March 14, 2017 notification and an April 2016 order had decreed that the nominees of such parties would be treated as independent candidates for allotment of symbols. This is clearly a boost for the established political parties and a setback for any newly formed political party.

The court however made it clear that its ruling was interim, since it did not want to “interfere with the ongoing election process” and set a date in July 2017 (after the declaration of results of the current elections) for its’ next hearing.

This is totally arbitrary, given that in the past, parties which were newly formed at that time were in fact allowed to get a common symbol for their candidates (e.g. the Aam Aadmi Party in 2013). In fact, it is understood that such a restriction is not being imposed by other election panels in other states! The stand of the Delhi state election panel and the court ruling upholding it for the present makes it very difficult for anyone wanting to form a new political party, while giving unfair advantage to already established parties. All those who stand for democracy and fair play must oppose such totally arbitrary policies.

Dr. Venkatesh Sundaram

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