Congress has been the longest running ruling party in the nation. However, like everything else, this party as also undergone certain massive changes.
Before 1969, the election symbol of Congress was two oxen with a yoke symbolizing the hard work of the members. However, a certain rift between Indira Gandhi and other Congress members made Indira Gandhi form a new party called Congress (I).
Since the oxen had become synonymous with old Congress, Indira Gandhi decided to use a new symbol as Congress (O), the party which included members who did not join Indira Gandhi, prevented her from using the symbol. The argument by the Congress (O) members was that they were the ones who were involved in freedom struggle and hence were the real inheritors of the party symbol.
After much thought and analysis, Mrs. Gandhi chose a calf suckling a cow. During the 1971 elections, with cow and a calf as symbol, Mrs. Gandhi established herself as a powerful brand and campaigned on cow protection as their core issue. The issue of saving cows was focused on so much so that most of the laws about beef ban and cow slaughter came from the Congress party.
However, in 1977 when things turned worse in the country and emergency was declared, the Congress lost power at the center and their symbol became a joke. Many Congressmen as well as the common man joked that the cow was Indira Gandhi and the calf was Sanjay Gandhi.
Soon, the party was against split into two: one group who stood with Indira Gandhi and the other group which opposed the lady. For the next elections, the Election Commission froze the symbol and asked her to come up with a new one.
There is an interesting anecdote about the election symbol. When Mrs. Gandhi was in Andhra Pradesh with P.V Narasimha Rao, Buta Singh visited the EC office to discuss over the election symbol. The EC gave them a bicycle, an elephant and a hand to choose from. Confused with the choices, Buta Singh called up Mrs. Gandhi and asked her in a thick Punjabi accent, “Haath thik rahega?” Mrs. Gandhi mistook it as “Haathi” meaning elephant and asked Singh to go for “Haath” meaning hand. Buta Singh then replied, “Haan, Haathi.” Irked and helpless, Indira Gandhi passed the receiver to P.V Narasimha Rao who asked Singh, “Panjaa?” Panjaa means hand in Punjabi.
And that is how Congress got its symbol of an open palm.