Where women voters were amused by symbols

Madurai

Inside a polling booth in Madurai East constituency, an elderly couple said they were impressed by the precautionary measures taken for safety against COVID. Their temperatures were checked and each voter was given single cellophane glove to wear before going in to vote.

"Throughout the pandemic we stayed in our protective social bubble and I was little wary of coming to the booth," said the man, who was leading his wife. As the couple waited for their turn in the queue, the husband thought it wise to explain the party names and symbols of the contesting candidates that were stuck on a large sheet of paper outside the polling room.

Standing behind them two young women joined the conversation and said they were aware of only the two Dravidian parties and their candidate’s names. One was exercising her right to vote for the second time and the other had voted three times before. And both laughed saying only after coming to the booth on the day of polling every time they discover so many other candidates are also in the fray.

From a CCTV, street light, transistor and air-conditioner to a bucket, cricket bat, gift box, gas cylinder and peas in a pod, there were 16 election symbols to choose from in this constituency.

The women were clearly amused by the symbols and wanted to know if the symbols carried any real meaning or were randomly taken.

The voter may not read the manifesto or meet the candidate but the election symbol may hold out remarkable promise. The variety of symbols displayed on the EVMs can be fascinating to the last-minute decision makers or the neo voters.

In The Great March of Democracy, Seven Decades of India’s Elections, a compilation of essays by renowned experts and edited by the former Chief Election Commissioner, S Y Quraishi, it is mentioned that the allotment of symbols to political parties was India’s ingenious way of overcoming the shortcomings of an illiterate electorate. If the masses could not read the names of candidates in 1951, they could at least vote the symbol. The first CEC Sukumar Sen thought this would be a temporary measure since it would not be necessary once the literacy levels went up in the promising, foreseeable future.

India’s literacy rate grew from 18.33 % in 1951 to 77.7 % in 2020, but our election symbols have came to stay permanently.

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