Supreme Court has previously bestowed consideration on the importance of the symbol in an electoral system, especially one allotted to a political party. Taking note of the 3-Judge Bench decision in Shri Sadiq Ali v Election Commission of India, New Delhi, (1972) 4 SCC 664, another Bench of 3 learned Judges in All Party Hill Leaders’ Conference, Shillong v Captain W A Sangma, (1977) 4 SCC 161 put it thus:

“ 29. For the purpose of holding elections, allotment of symbol will find a prime place in a country where illiteracy is still very high. It has been found from experience that symbol as a device for casting votes in favour of a candidate of one’s choice has proved an invaluable aid.

Apart from this, just as people develop a sense of honour, glory and patriotic pride for a flag of one’s country, similarly great fervour and emotions are generated for a symbol representing a political party. This is particularly so in a parliamentary democracy which is conducted on party lines. People after a time identify themselves with the symbol and the flag. These are great unifying insignia which cannot all of a sudden, be effacced.”

Placing reliance on Shri Sadiq Ali (supra), a 2- Judge Bench summed up as under, in Edapaddi K Palaniswami v TTV Dhinakaran, (2019) 18 SCC 219:

“39. We say so because the efficacy of having a common symbol for a political group has been underscored in Sadiq Ali v. Election Commissionof India [Sadiq Ali v. Election Commission of India, (1972) 4 SCC 664].

In para 21 of the said judgment, this Court observed thus: (SCC pp. 674-75)  

“ 21. … It is well known that overwhelming majority of the electorate are illiterate. It was realised that in view of the handicap of illiteracy, it might not be possible for the illiterate voters to cast their votes in favour of the candidate of their choice unless there was some pictorial representation on the ballot paper itself whereby such voters might identify the candidate of their choice. Symbols were accordingly brought into use. Symbols or emblems are not a peculiar feature of the election law of India. …

The object is to ensure that the process of election is as genuine and fair as possible and that no elector should suffer from any handicap in casting his vote in favour of a candidate of his choice. Although the purpose which accounts for the origin of symbols was of a limited character, the symbol of each political party with the passage of time acquired a great value because the bulk of the electorate associated the political party at the time of elections with its symbol. …”

And again in paras 40 and 41 it is observed thus:

“40. … It would, therefore, follow that Commission has been clothed with plenary powers by the abovementioned Rules in the matter of allotment of symbols. … If the Commission is not to be disabled from exercising effectively the plenary powers vested in it in the matter of allotment of symbols and for issuing directions in connection therewith, it is plainly essential that the Commission should have the power to settle a dispute in case claim for the allotment of the symbol of a political party is made by two rival claimants. … Para 15 is intended to effectuate and subserve the main purposes and objects of the Symbols Order.

The paragraph is designed to ensure that because of a dispute having arisen in a political party between two or more groups, the entire scheme of the Symbols Order relating to the allotment of a symbol reserved for the political party is not set at naught. …

The Commission is an authority created by the Constitution and according to Article 324, the superintendence, direction and control of the electoral rolls for and the conduct of elections to Parliament and to the Legislature of every State and of elections to the office of President and Vice-President shall be vested in the Commission.  

The fact that the power of resolving a dispute between two rival groups for allotment of symbol of a political party has been vested in such a high authority would raise a presumption, though rebuttable, and provide a guarantee, though not absolute but to a considerable extent, that the power would not be misused but would be exercised in a fair and reasonable manner.

41. … Article 324 as mentioned above provides that superintendence, direction and control of elections shall be vested in Election Commission. …”

This decision in Sadiq Ali has been followed in Kanhiya Lal Omar v. R.K. Trivedi [Kanhiya Lal Omar v. R.K. Trivedi, (1985) 4 SCC 628] and in para 10 thereof, the Court observed thus: (SCC pp. 635-36)

“10. It is true that till recently the Constitution did not expressly refer to the existence of political parties. But their existence is implicit in the nature of democratic form of Government which our country has adopted.

The use of a symbol, be it a donkey or an elephant, does give rise to a unifying effect amongst the people with a common political and economic programme and ultimately helps in the establishment of a Westminster type of democracy which we have adopted with a Cabinet responsible to the elected representatives of the people who constitute the Lower House.

The political parties have to be there if the present system of Government should succeed and the chasm dividing the political parties should be so profound that a change of administration would in fact be a revolution disguised under a constitutional procedure.

It is no doubt a paradox that while the country as a whole yields to no other in its corporate sense of unity and continuity, the working parts of its political system are so organised on party basis — in other words, “on systematised differences and unresolved conflicts”.

That is the essence of our system and it facilitates the setting up of a Government by the majority. Although till recently the Constitution had not expressly referred to the existence of political parties, by the amendments made to it by the Constitution (Fifty-second Amendment) Act, 1985 there is now a clear recognition of the political parties by the Constitution.

The Tenth Schedule to the Constitution which is added by the above Amending Act acknowledges the existence of political parties and sets out the circumstances when a member of Parliament or of the State Legislature would be deemed to have defected from his political party and would thereby be disqualified for being a member of the House concerned.

Hence it is difficult to say that the reference to recognition, registration, etc. of political parties by the Symbols Order is unauthorised and against the political system adopted by our country.”


Union Territory of Laddakh v. Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (2023)