Party Symbol Dispute – UPSC Prelims

Context: There has been a split within the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and both the factions are claiming for the same party symbol.
EC has Quasi-Judicial Powers:
ECI has been empowered with quasi-judicial powers under section 15 of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968.
How Election Commission decides on party symbol disputes?
  • Approach EC: The EC cannot take suo motu cognizance of such cases. It can act only when at least one party approaches it with its claim.
  • Evidence produced: Once a claim has been raised with EC, it starts the proceedings by giving notice to the other faction to give its version. Both parties are asked to produce evidence in support of their claim, accompanied by affidavits
  • Scrutiny by EC: The commission will scrutinize whether there are rival sections or groups of a recognized political party as claimed based on the information it possesses. If the commission is satisfied that there exist rival factions within a political party then it decides which faction is a recognized party.
  • Test of majority: The EC employs ‘the test of majority’ principle to decide the recognized party. The EC looks at the strength of each group, in the party’s organization and in the legislatures.
    • In case EC is not able to determine the strength of rival groups based on support within the party organization, it resorts to testing the majority among elected MPs and MLAs.
  • Binding decision: The decision of the Commission is binding and on all such rivals’ sections or groups.
    • In 1997 the EC introduced a new rule under which while one faction got the party symbol, the other had to register itself as a separate party.
    • The national or state party status of the new formation would be determined only on the basis of its performance in state or central elections after registration.
Judicial position on the issue
  • Many of the cases of split in political parties have landed in the Supreme Court. The most significant case was that of the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1969 where the Supreme Court upheld the order of the ECI applying the test of majority (Sadiq Ali vs ECI, 1972).
  • It was a milestone judgment for the Election Commission as the apex court upheld the constitutional validity of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, giving an executive order the status of subordinate legislation.
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