The Mythical Roots of Election Symbols (A Whimsy!)

The Worthing Malayali forum gifted me the beautiful Book of Symbols for writing them a play: and I must say that the gift is out of all proportion for the services rendered (it was chosen by my brother-in-law, a member of that esteemed organisation who knows my tastes inside-out). This book, published by Taschen Books, is a compilation of musings on universal symbols in art and myth, and for a Jungian like me, a veritable treasure-trove. The book is not scholarly or psychological – the focus is on the artistic and mythical, and stimulation of the imagination, not analysis, is the aim. I am keeping it by my bedside, dipping into it now and then, savouring the beautiful images and allowing my mind to ruminate.

In this context, I suddenly found that almost all the symbols used by the major political parties of India had deep mythical roots. Was it just coincidence or had the subconscious guided the powers that be in choosing those symbols? I was on a whimsical ride suddenly, trying to dig up the possible connections between Jung and the political parties of India! What follows is the result.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

I will start with the BJP because their symbol, the lotus, is connected to religion – purposefully. Being a party which consciously promotes Hinduism as the guiding principle of India (rather than the secularist principles enshrined in the constitution), they could not have chosen a better one: because the lotus is a symbol which carries a depth of meaning for Indians. A lotus originates from the navel of Vishnu, as he lies asleep dreaming the universe into being: Brahma sits on it, continuously engaged in Srstih (“creation”). The Buddha sits in it, untouched and untouchable, as he surveys the world. According to yoga, the highest chakra (vital energy centre) in the subtle body is a thousand-petalled lotus seated in the brain.

According to the book in question, India is not the only culture which connected the lotus to myth: in Egypt, the sun god Re is symbolised by this flower rising from the primordial ocean. The blue lotus of the Nile is sacred to the goddess. There is also the photograph of a beautiful sculpture of a Mayan god emerging from the folds of a water-lily, a flower of the same genus, thus proving that the sacred nature of the lotus was prevalent in Mesoamerica also.

What makes the lotus so special?

From the book:

…its roots sink into the murky soil of a pond or river bottom. From there, stems rise above the water surface to present bright flowers to the sun… As a poetic image and visual icon, the lotus symbol evokes the realisation that all life, rooted in mire, nourished by decomposed matter, growing upward through a fluid and changing medium, opens radiantly into space and light. The mire and fluidity symbolize the grosser, heavier qualities of nature, including the mind’s nature. The flower, beautifully multipetalled, symbolises the array of subtler, more lucid qualities, with the golden hue, the radiance of spirit, at its center.

Not a bad choice for a party which plans to promote a pan-Hindu culture.

Indian National Congress

India’s oldest party, the Indian National Congress (or just Congress for short) is a hoary old man on the Indian political scene, having been in existence much before India gained freedom from British rule – in fact, it was originally a movement to promote self-rule for India in a peaceful way, created by an Englishman! The advent of Gandhi changed all that, and the Congress became the spearhead of the Indian Independence movement. After gaining independence, however, the party has not had a consistent or coherent platform – officially they are socialistic, but in practice leaning to the liberal right.

The Congress adopted the symbol of the “Hand” in the early eighties and has stuck with it since. Although on first glance, the image is bereft of any mythical significance, there is more here than meets the eye.

Again, from the book:

In religions throughout the world, the Hand of God denotes supreme, inexorable agency. As primary instruments of the creative, the hands of the homo faber imitate the mythic shaping of matter into discriminated being by deities who chisel, mold, sculpt, weave and forge creation. Hands signify the sovereign, world-creating reach of consciousness; they embody effectiveness, industry, adaptation, invention, self-expression and the possession of a will for creative and destructive ends.

The book talks about the language of hands – the ‘mudra’s – in Indian dance, and a possible reason for the Congress’s choice of this particular symbol seems highly likely: the raised hand, palm outward, is the standard posture for conferring a blessing. Many gods, the Buddha, and various godmen are frequently shown in this pose. The Congress tries to similarly project omnipotence with regard to Indian politics: this symbol was chosen at the time of Indira Gandhi, who is almost a demigod in the party’s canon.

A secular image which still conveys a powerful mythic message.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)

Aam Aadmi (‘Common Man’) Party is the joker in the pack. It came out of nowhere in the Delhi Assembly Elections and dethroned the ruling Congress – worse, relegated it to third place. The novel thing about this party is that it consists of a bunch of mavericks from various walks of life, who have been fed up with the corruption and decay in the world of the career politician. They plan to totally change the system by rooting out corruption and changing the country so that focus is shifted to the common man, rather than the moneyed and influential. The sweeping changes they intend to make to the system are also reflected in their election symbol: the broom.

Does the broom have a mythical significance? It appears that it does.

From the book:

Throughout the world, the sweeping of house or shop with a broom is one of the first acts in the ordering of the day; it is reality and ritual. Zen Buddhism embraces the broom as an emblem of the sage, signifying contact with the world that must accompany pureness of thought. Broom suggests simplicity through the elimination of what is unnecessary – the sweeping away of the illusions, strivings and attachments that clutter consciousness – and alludes to the emptiness in which unforeseen possibilities of enlightenment can spontaneously emerge.

I do not know whether such deep thought has gone into the choosing of this particular symbol, but I am sure another thing, mentioned in the book, has: the association of the broom with the woman, and in India, specifically with one of lower class and caste. Because in India, the broom, though it cleans, is itself considered unclean: so are its wielders. Hitting somebody with a broom is the ultimate insult. So in a way, the AAP is consciously projecting its lower status – as well as the power of its weapon, which the higher class cannot counter.

Will it work? Only time can tell.


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