It also defends practice of allotting reserved symbols to recognised parties alone
The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Monday told the Madras High Court that the practice of allotting election symbols cannot be done away with, though the literacy rate of the country has increased substantially since the first general elections were held in 1952 and now most voters are capable of reading the names of the candidates as well as the political parties in the fray.
The ECI said: “When it comes to the question of an inclusive voting process, the usage of symbols to identify candidates becomes irreplaceable and even if a very small minority continues to be illiterate in the country, the requirement of symbols cannot be done away with… Even for those who are literate, the symbols constitute an easy way of identifying their preferred candidates.”
The submissions were made in response to a case filed by Tamizhaga Murpokku Makkal Katchi, through its counsel K. Sakthivel, challenging the validity of some provisions of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968. The petitioner had contended that allotment of reserved symbols to recognised political parties alone was against the principle of ensuring a level- playing field.
Denying the charge, the commission, in its counter affidavit filed before Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, said it would not be possible to reserve election symbols for all registered political parties due to various practical factors and limitations. Therefore, the commission had laid down certain benchmarks to recognise political parties which enjoy greater public support.
Recognised political parties gain such a status based on the percentage of votes garnered by them and the number of seats that they win. Even those parties would have to perform well consistently to retain such a status failing which they would lose both recognition and the reserved symbol, the commission said. It added that if a party loses a symbol, such symbol could be claimed by another party after meeting the criteria.
“The building of goodwill for a party or for a symbol due to good work is not antithetical to democracy and does not affect the freedom of voting in any way,” the counter affidavit read. On the petitioner’s contention that ruling parties spend public money on promoting their symbols, the commission said, such charge, if proved, could lead to serious consequences to the extent of withdrawal of symbol.
The ECI, further termed as “far-fetched” the petitioner’s claim that the glorification of reserved symbols by the recognised parties amounted to indulging in corrupt practices. “The submission of the petitioner that the allotment of reserved symbols leads to discrimination between the recognised parties and others, by giving the former an advantage, is misplaced,” the commission claimed.
After taking the counter affidavit filed through ECI counsel Niranjan Rajagopalan on file, the court adjourned the matter by three weeks for the petitioner’s counsel to file his rejoinder.
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