In its Manual on the Model Code of Conduct, the EC has made it absolutely clear (on page 144 of chapter 22.5) that all animals, birds or reptiles of any type cannot be used while canvassing for votes by political parties or their candidates.
The manual states: “The EC has advised the political parties and candidates to refrain from using any animal for election campaign in any manner. Even a party, having reserved symbols depicting an animal should not make live demonstration of that animal in any election campaign of the party/any of its candidates.”
Several Indian animal rights groups like PETA India, environmentalists and naturalists have wholeheartedly lauded the EC decision.
“EC and PETA India agree that using animals in election campaigns is unnecessary, archaic and cruel,” said PETA CEO M. Valliyate.
He said political parties/candidates must stick to eye-catching and creative campaigns without subjecting the helpless animals to the frightening torture of frenetic crowds, loudspeakers and other campaign-related jamboree.
In the past, Valliyate said the PETA India had written to the EC, all State Election Commissions and political parties, expressing concern over how animals are forced into the middle of screaming crowds during election campaigns and poll rallies.
Even worse, these terrified animals were often beaten, whipped, kicked and terrorised while being paraded through streets and shoved into mobs of wildly shouting and pushing crowds, it pointed out.
The animals were compelled to carry heavy loads, much in excess of their physical capacity, denied sufficient food, water or rest and faced the prospects of severe injuries in the public mayhem.
Ganesh Nayak, Chairman of NGO Animals Matter To Me (AMTM) Mumbai, lauding the EC, told IANS: “Finally, we have become humane towards these silent creatures, who are tormented during the election gimmicks of us humans. The EC must strictly monitor implementation of its orders.”
The colourful Indian elections have seen many animals and birds being allotted as symbols by the election authorities for various national state or local elections.
Some of the popular animals include: elephants, tigers, deer, camels, cows, bulls, donkeys, parrots, peacocks, doves, hens, cats, dogs and snakes et al.
The candidates, and occasionally even political parties, go to weird lengths to get the voters to identify with the animals allotted as their poll symbols.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has an elephant as its symbol while the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) has a tiger as its mascot, with many major political parties worldwide having animals as their symbols, most notably the US Democratic Party’s donkey and the Republican Party’s elephant.
In India, there are post-Independence records of a candidate in West Bengal hiring an elephant (his poll symbol) to accompany him on the campaign trail; another who was allotted a tiger, rented a caged tiger and took it around his constituency!
In the 1950s, a candidate allotted a chicken symbol, took a live hen out on the campaign trail but an eagle swooped on it and gobbled it up — and the wannabe politician lost the polls.
Concurring with the EC, eivnornmentalist Bittu Sahgal said that using live animals “is not just cruelty but displays insensitivity”, particularly with young voters.
“Politicians must understand that values have changed and (by using live animals) they would probably lose votes,” Sahgal told IANS.
Following PETA India’s appeal in 2012, the EC had issued a directive to all political parties and candidates to refrain from using animals during election rallies.
Later, PETA India followed this up and several like Maharashtra, Assam, Mizoram, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have decreed that the use of live animals representing the allotted symbols of political parties/candidates would not be permitted in the election campaign.