From elephants to dogs, all part of the Indian election rush

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Animals are not just silent spectators of Indian elections, but active participants in the democratic process. From majestic elephants to docile dogs, members of the animal kingdom have been unsung heroes over the years.

Imagine 1951-52, a newly independent India holding its first general elections. The country’s vast and rugged terrain and lack of adequate infrastructure pose a formidable challenge to the electoral system.

The Narrative Report of the 17th Lok Sabha General Elections by the Election Commission of India (ECI) states that in 1951-52 elephants, bullock carts, camels were used for transportation in areas difficult for machines and manpower. Thus these animals became the unconventional chariots of democracy carrying the hopes and aspirations of an independent nation.

Fast forward to 2014, and the role of animals has evolved. Dogs became guardians of peace. Deployed in sensitive zones, 47 canine companions sniff out threats and protect the sanctity of the vote. Bomb-detecting dog squads from Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh were mobilized from Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand from Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. These dogs were of the Labrador, German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois breeds.

Election officials travel on elephants on their way to Nartap in Guwahati constituency on the Assam-Meghalaya border on April 19, 2004. (File Photo) | Photo credit: Ritu Raj Kunwar

According to a narrative report on the 16th Lok Sabha General Election, a five-year-old Labrador named ‘Brandi’ discovered about 40 kg of IEDs in Sukma, Chhattisgarh and saved the lives of CRPF personnel. ‘Brandi’, who passed away on March 24, 2014, is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made in the line of duty.

However, not all animals played the role of friend. Some, like the elephants of Meghalaya or the crocodiles of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, presented unique challenges, turning the election process into an adventure.

During the 2014 elections, the electoral body called emergency meetings with the forest department to keep elephants away from the Salmanpara polling station in Meghalaya. Five crack teams with six forest personnel were deployed to cover 19 polling stations that are vulnerable to the presence of elephants.

In the 2019 elections, officials in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands had to cross a mangrove swamp populated by crocodiles and then a three-hour stretch in the open sea. They then have to walk through the forest to the isolated village of Hanspuri so that its 260 voters can participate in the election process. Officials braved the jungles, mangroves and seas, ensuring that every vote took place even in the remotest corners of the country.

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Even political parties have adopted animals as symbols of their identity. The ‘Report on First General Elections in India 1951-52’ by ECI shows that animal symbols were appropriated only in 1951-52. These include ‘Horse and Rider’ for All India Hindu Mahasabha, ‘Standing Lion’ for All India Forward Bloc (Marxist Group), ‘Two Bulls with Yoke on’ for Indian National Congress, ‘Elephant’ for All India Scheduled Castes. . Federation.

At present, the national parties have the elephant as the symbol of the Bahujan Samaj Party.

According to the ECI notification dated May 15, 2023, the Asom Gana Parishad (Assam) has an ‘elephant’; And the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (Goa), the Hill State People’s Democratic Party (Meghalaya), and the All India Forward Bloc (West Bengal) have the ‘lion’ as their election symbol.

As the narrative of Indian elections unfolds, it is clear that animals are essential characters shaping the plot and adding depth to the rich tapestry of India’s electoral history.

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