How Congress selected ‘Hand’ symbol
Posted December 9, 2015on:
Indira Gandhi and the Congress lost the elections held after the Emergency. The Congress split on January 1, 1978; the faction led by Indira Gandhi was recognised by the Election Commission as Congress (I). The ‘Cow and Calf’ symbol of the Congress was frozen and the Congress (I) was allotted the symbol of ‘Hand’. There are two versions of how the Congress (I) opted for the ‘Hand’ symbol.
In his autobiographical political memoir called ‘The Chinar Leaves’, M L Fotedar says that after the formation of the Congress (I), Indiraji had gone to meet Sathya Sai Baba to seek his blessings. Sai Baba raised his hand and said, ‘My blessings are always with you.’ When the Election Commission offered the new symbol to Congress (I), the choice was between a hand and an elephant. Indiraji had the image of Sai Baba’s hand raised in blessing on her mind and so opted for it.
Rasheed Kidwai, however, writes in his book ’24 Akbar Road’, apparently on the basis of his interview with Buta Singh, that ‘Indira was out in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, with P V Narasimha Rao when Buta was asked by the Election Commission to pick up an election symbol; the choices were an elephant, a bicycle and an open palm. Buta was not sure which symbol he should choose, so he booked a trunk call to seek Indira’s approval. The line was not very clear, or, perhaps, Buta’s Hindi pronunciation was so thick that Indira kept hearing haathi (elephant) instead of haath (hand). She kept saying no to it even as Buta kept trying to explain that it was not the elephant, but the open palm symbol that he was advising her to pick. The comedy of errors continued till an exasperated Indira handed the telephone over to Rao. In a matter of seconds, Rao, master of more than a dozen Indian and foreign languages, understood what Buta was trying to convey.’
Between the two, Fotedar’s version appears more credible. For one thing, Buta Singh was not high enough in the party hierarchy at the time. He was a cheer-leader of Sanjay Gandhi during the Emergency. After the post-Emergency split in the Congress, the Sanjay brigade had noisily supported Indira Gandhi and many of the Sanjay Gandhi supporters were suitably adjusted in the newly formed Congress (I). Buta Singh was appointed one of the AICC general secretaries.
Secondly, Indira Gandhi was never known to take important decisions in this casual manner. She would consult the people around her but once she had made up her mind, she would take the decision and remain firm on it. Besides, she has always been a superstitious woman and had become more so after the Congress debacle in the post-Emergency period. That she should have on her mind Sathya Sai Baba’s ‘hand raised in blessing’ at the time of deciding her party’s election symbol sounds plausible.
The Congress (I) fought its first election under the new symbol for the Delhi Municipal Corporation and won.