MetaTOC stay on top of your field, easily

Two bullocks, a ladder and a lamp: electoral symbols in Nehruvian India

Nations and Nationalism

Published online on


There is a substantial body of literature on nation‐building that, from a variety of theoretical approaches, examines the role of symbolic constructs in the process of construction and consolidation of new nation‐states. Among these works, the dramatic and symbolic aspects of election and their function in the nation‐building project have been investigated by political scientists and anthropologists alike. However, analysis of electoral emblems as constitutive elements in the nation‐building process has been largely missing from most studies of nation‐building and official nationalism. A case study of postindependence India suggests how national belonging was also made to hinge upon on competent democratic participation of the masses in the political life of the country. Central to this process of identity work was the establishment of an independent Election Commission and of strict rules for the design, selection and allotment of election emblems. Conventional accounts have argued that these procedures were introduced primarily for the benefit of the uneducated masses who were suddenly invited to participate in India's democratic process. I argue against this simplistic interpretation. Far from being only tools for the simplification of electoral processes, India's election symbols were one of India's institutional mechanisms designed to nurture the development of a correct democratic conduct and therefore ultimately contributing to the Nehruvian national project.