The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), the country's second-largest
party and an early favorite ahead of the contest, has objected to the
assignment of a cat as the symbol for any party or independent
candidate. The PML-N's own symbol is a lion, and some party leaders are
of the view that the resemblance between the cat and the lion might
adversely affect their showing. Illiterate voters who frequently pay
special attention to kinship, clans, feudalism, or khanism, their
argument goes, might cast votes for the wrong cat.
Another, arguably more serious, case is that of the book. That was the
symbol of the six-party religious alliance Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal
(MMA) in the 2002 general elections. But since that religious alliance
disintegrated in 2007, the book was assigned to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam
(JUI-F) party for the 2008 polls.
Both in 2002 and again in 2008, leaders of nonreligious parties
complained that their religious rivals were presenting the book as a
Koran to attract voters in the name of Islam. So they have filed an
objection with the Election Commission of Pakistan this time to remove
it from the list.
There have been suggestions that the book should appear unfolded, with
English letters on its pages. That would presumably prevent religious
parties from propagating their election symbol as holy because,
opponents suggest, even the illiterate in Pakistan know very well that
the language of the Koran is Arabic and not English.
So what's left for the hard-line Jamat-e-Islami party? Since it
boycotted the 2008 general elections, the image of the book was assigned
to its erstwhile coalition partner, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam. Looking for a
similarly desirable symbol, Jamat-e-Islami's leaders have applied with
the election commission to be represented by a set of scales.
Of course, scales are widely regarded as a symbol of justice, and
Pakistan is no exception. That's why the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI),
or Justice Party, of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan also wants
its symbol to be a set of scales. Khan's electoral symbol was previously
a cricket bat. Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaaf party and Jamat-e-Islami are both known for their
dharnas (sit-ins) and marches to register their displeasure. So neither
can be ruled out once a decision on the symbol is made.
That brings us to the most despised symbol, the lota, or vessel. In
olden days, lotas were made of clay and used mostly in mosques for
ablutions. With modernity creeping into religious places, however, the
clay lotas have largely been replaced with metal or plastic pitchers.
Although hand and electrical pumps have now considerably reduced the use
of lotas for ablutions in urban areas, they are still widely used in
village purification rituals.
One might assume that as an instrument of a sacred rite, the lota might
be the choice of conservative parties. But the opposite is in fact the
case. No one knows precisely how or when the lota entered Pakistan's
political lexicon or why it became so despised, but it has become
synonymous with opportunistic politicians who change political stripes
for personal gain.