Why did the Congress party which has been successful throughout the post-independence era, had to change its symbol twice and how did it finalize on the hand symbol?
The Indian National Congress Party under the stewardship of Nehru had the symbol of ‘two bullocks with plough’ which struck a chord with masses who were predominantly farmers. After the death of Nehru and controversial death of Shastri, Indira Gandhi carried the legacy of Congress forward. With majority of the population being illiterate, lot of importance was given in promoting the party symbol and Indira became face of the party as we had seen in an ad from the 1960s:
In 1969, due to some internal conflicts within the Congress party, Indira decided to break out and form a party of her own, with majority of the old Congress party members in support of her in the new party which was named Congress(I) and the older Congress named themselves Congress(O). (I for Indira and O for Organization.)
Since the bullocks symbol had become synonomous with the Congress, Indira tried to use it for her new party but due to an appeal from Congress(O), she had to come up with a new symbol and chose “Cow with calf”. In spite of the breakout and a new symbol, to the surprise of analysts, she won a landslide victory in the 1971 elections.
After the emergency of mid 1970s which witnessed the death of democracy and Sanjay’s follies, Indira finally opted for fresh elections in 1977. By then, the Congress(I) symbol of cow with calf had become a mockery throughout the country where not only the opposition but also the common man compared Cow to Indira and Calf to Sanjay 🙂
So, Indira had decided to discard that symbol and later come up with a new one this time. But at the same time, the Election Commission had frozen the symbol and asked Indira to select a new symbol as soon as possible.
There is an interesting anecdote about the symbol selection. When Indira was in Andhra Pradesh with P.V.Narasimha Rao, Buta Singh had visited the office of EC to discuss about the new symbol and EC provided him with choices of an elephant, a bicycle & an open palm. Buta, confused with the choices, decided to let Indira take that decision and informed her of the choices over phone. EC had insisted Buta to select the symbol by the next morning, failing which, the party would have to contest without a symbol. This became a matter of concern to the top party workers who along with Indira brainstormed for hours over the given choices and finally upon the insistence of RK Rajarathnam who suggested that the open palm due to its simplicity woud be easily recognizable by the people, Indira decided to select it:
The next morning, when Buta Singh called Indira to find out her decision, it turned out into a comedy of errors. Due to his thick accent and pronounciation, when he said “haath theek rahega?” (will hand be fine?), Indira mistook it for “haathi” (will elephant be fine?) to which she said no and said “haath” to which again Buta said “Yes. Thats what I am also saying. Haathi”. Finally, Indira gave up and handed over the phone to P.V.Narasimha Rao. PVN, master of more than 15 Indian and foreign languages immediately realized that Buta was actually saying “Haath” and asked “Panjaa?” (palm) to which Buta affirmed. That was how the hand became the party symbol for Congress party.
It is interesting to note that the symbols which Indira rejected i.e Elephant & Bicycle, were later chosen by parties who went on to gain significant foothold in Uttar Pradesh. The BSP chose elephant and the SP chose Bicycle..