ECI's Role in Resolving Party Symbol Disputes: A Case Study of the NCP Split

Understanding the Election Commission's Role in Resolving Party Symbol Disputes: A Case Study of the NCP Split

The Election Commission of India (ECI) plays a pivotal role in settling disputes between rival factions of political parties, particularly concerning the allocation of party symbols. A recent instance of this occurred in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), where the ECI ruled in favor of the faction led by Ajit Pawar, settling the dispute over the party's symbol, the 'Clock'. This decision sheds light on the mechanisms and criteria used by the ECI in such cases.

EC’s Authority and Guidelines:

The authority of the ECI to resolve disputes over party symbols is derived from the Symbols Order, 1968. This order empowers the ECI to adjudicate claims of rival factions in the event of a party split. Such decisions are made based on the provisions laid down in the Symbols Order. This authority extends to disputes within both recognized national and state-level parties, as the party symbol is considered integral to its identity. In instances where unrecognised party factions encounter disputes, the ECI typically advises them to resolve the issue internally or seek recourse through legal channels. Importantly, the decisions of the ECI are binding on all parties involved.

Criteria Utilized by the ECI:

The ECI employs three key criteria, as outlined in the Sadiq Ali case, to assess the legitimacy of rival factions claiming a party symbol. These criteria include scrutinizing the party's aims and objectives, examining its constitution, and conducting a test of majority support. The majority test encompasses evaluating support within both the legislative and organisational wings of the party. In cases where organisational support is ambiguous, the ECI places greater emphasis on the majority among elected Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). If neither test yields conclusive results, the ECI may opt to freeze the symbol temporarily.

Implications for Splinter Groups:

Historically, prior to 1997, breakaway factions could attain recognition as a separate party if they met the prescribed criteria. However, since 1997, splinter groups are required to register as a new party and can only claim national or state-level party status based on their electoral performance post-registration.

Background of the NCP Dispute:

The split within the NCP arose when Ajit Pawar aligned with the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra in 2022. Both factions of the party sought recognition from the ECI, initiating a series of hearings that commenced in July 2022 and culminated in a verdict in February 2023.

EC’s Verdict and Rationale:

The ECI's ruling favored the Ajit Pawar faction as the legitimate NCP, primarily based on the test of majority within the legislative wing. Out of the total 81 MPs, MLAs, and MLCs associated with the party, 57 supported Ajit Pawar, while 28 backed Sharad Pawar. The ECI dismissed the organisational wing test due to the absence of a clear basis, prompting it to direct the Sharad Pawar faction to adopt a new name and symbol.

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