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Animals as political symbols
By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi
Many years ago when TN Seshan was the election commissioner, Jayalalithaa’s party had a rooster (cock) as a symbol. During the state election, thousands of birds were tied to the top of fast moving vehicles. Their legs broke and there were dead bodies of cocks strewn all over Tamil Nadu every evening. I prevailed upon the EC to have a deeper look at animals used as symbols and he promptly banned as many as he thought fit. Unfortunately, the BSP remained with its elephant and they misuse this poor animal horribly.
During my election in Sultanpur in 2019, my opponents rented an elephant and took her from village to village. She and her mahout died stepping on an open wire lying in water. The party said the elephant symbolises physical strength, will power and the hugeness of the Bahujan Samaj. The Assam Gana Parishad also has the elephant that signifies physical strength, will power, fearlessness, stability and excellent foresight.
Two other small parties, the MGP and the Hill States People Democratic Party, have lion as symbol. For MGP, it represents determination and the HSPDP says it stands for “party’s objective to defend the rights and privileges of the inhabitants of the state from probable political selfish motives”. Whatever that means.
The All India Forward Block West Bengal has the tiger that represents “strength and determination of the leadership of a statesman like Netaji, prepared for worst circumstances.” The Shiv Sena has the tiger too on its flag but its election symbol is a bow and arrow.
There are 48 parties across the world with animals as their symbols.
The American Democratic Party symbol is the donkey. Apparently the democratic presidential candidate in 1828, Andrew Jackson, got so fed up with being called a jackass that he made the party adopt the donkey as a symbol, using it to personify strong will and flexibility.
The Republicans have the elephant. Once cartoonist Thomas Nast drew a donkey in sheep’s skin terrorising other animals. All the animals are scared except the strong, fearless elephant that is labelled as “The Republican Vote”. The Republican Party promptly adopted it.
The Prohibition Party of the US has the camel. “Camels don’t drink very often, and, when they do drink, they drink only water”. It had one hump first and then it became two humped so as not to confuse it with the logo on Camel Cigarettes.
The Constitution Party has the bald eagle, which is the official bird of the US and has been brought back from near extinction. The Modern Whig Party has the owl representing wisdom and middle ground. The American Solidarity Party has the pelican, a Christian bird that represents the seeking of the common good before its own, valuing love over power.
The bear is the symbol of the United Russia Party, which has dominated political life in Russia since the early 2000s. The Russian Bear (a Eurasian Brown Bear) is a widespread symbol used in cartoons, articles and plays since the 16th century, and relates to the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the present-day Russian Federation. Westerners use it in caricatures to imply that Russia is “big, brutal and clumsy”.
The Capitalist Party (ZACP) of South Africa has the head of a purple cow. Cattle represent wealth in sub-Saharan Africa and purple is the colour of prosperity. It was a toss-up between showing cash on the flag. Instead, the cash cow was chosen. The Inkatha Freedom Party South Africa has three elephants representing majesty. Botswana Congress Party also has a cow but it is black and represents both cattle and mining as the twin pillars of prosperity.
Ghana’s Convention People’s Party has a red cockerel to bring in a new dawn. The Maat party of Zimbabwe has a mythical bird called the Sankofa Mythical Bird: a bird flying with its head facing backward, a precious egg held by its beak, and its legs facing forward. Sankofa, translated from the Twi language, means to return and take it, to have a successful return to your roots. The Social Democratic Party of Nigeria has a white running horse as its logo, symbolising progress.
Closer to home, Nepal’s Rashtriya Prajatantra Party has the holy cow on its flag. Sri Lanka’s New Democratic Front has the swan as a symbol of hope. Since the swan is not native to Sri Lankan, and it is better known for fidelity rather than hope, it seems an odd choice. Myanmar’s National League for Democracy has a peacock as its symbol. The green peafowl is one of the national animals of Burma, adopted by the monarchy in the 18th Century and then appropriated by the anti-colonialist movement as their emblem. The NLD continues the tradition.
Union Solidarity Development Party of Burma has a lion which symbolises solidarity. The All Pakistan Muslim League has a falcon symbolising martial strength. Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif’s party, the PML, is symbolised by the tiger.
Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle has a red-eyed bull with curving horns. President Sukarno, known as Bung Karno, is symbolised as the bull. The Great Indonesia Movement has an eagle called Garuda Panchasila symbolising strength, power, glory and religious tolerance.
Alliance Belgium has the Belgian Lion, also the national symbol, representing unity and strength. The Communal Democracy Party of Cyprus has a dove to symbolise peace. The Slavonia Baranja Croatian Party has a running Marten, a type of weasel. In the Middle Age, marten pelts were used as payment in Slavonia, Croatia and Dalmatia.
Thebanovac, a coin used between 1235 and 1384, included the image of a marten. This is one of the reasons why the Croatian word for marten, kuna, is the name of the modern Croatian currency. The National Party of Slovakia has the eagle which symbolises the uncompromising struggle for people’s rights.
The Democratic Party, Turkey has a white horse on a red background. Interestingly, it derives from the popular rural mispronunciation of its name, Demokrat Parti as Demir Kırat (iron white horse). The logo became a white horse on a red map of Turkey. In 1990, the horse became the national animal of the Turks. The Democratic Left Party of Turkey has a white dove to symbolise pacifism and social accordance.
Agricultural People’s Front of Peru has a fish which represents coastal agricultural communities. Brazilian Social Democratic Party has a toucan. Party members are called tucanos. Cartago Green Party of Costa Rica has a Toucan to represent ecological ideas, and so does the Ecological Green Party of Mexico.
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