The Election Commission has thrown open a can of worms by seeking the viewpoint of political parties on whether or not opinion polls should be banned altogether. The stage has been set for political bickering between the Congress and the BJP. The nationalist leaders of these parties have come forward and showcased their likes and dislikes for opinion polls.
The recent Congress diktat to ban opinion polls shows much it is affected by the results of the polls as a predictive result of the election. In most of the opinion polls being conducted by well known media houses, the grand old party of Indian political panorama is on the losing ground; be it Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Chhattisgarh.
We have Mr. Digvijay Singh who quite vehemently argued about the methodology of opinion polls and termed them as a ‘paid service’ altogether. As a stark contrast, we have Mr. Arun Jaitely who makes a point when he says that a ban on the Opinion polls would be unconstitutional and against the right to free speech as provided by our Constitution. Mr. Modi has his own viewpoint on the controversial subject; to him the Congress after supporting a ban on opinion polls might want to ban electoral blogs, editorials and articles!
Both the arguments have their own ramifications. While on one hand, we have big media houses which owe allegiance to big corporate and political interests, the opinion polls can be skewed to justify the political expediency of a particular party (many media houses are owned by politicians and big industrialists). On the other hand, banning the freedom of speech of the electoral populace would hinge upon the ‘Right to Speech’ as provided by the Constitution. Thus both the arguments hold ground on such a controversial subject.
But why are political parties so vary of Opinion Polls?
Considering that these polls are well bench-marked questionnaires targeting a quantified populace, these are interpreted as an accurate and measurable standard of election studies (called psephology). The answer could lie between a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’ by the tentative voter. Many of the political parties have questioned the ‘genuineness’ of such an exercise (opinion polls are often misconstrued as a voter wooing phenomenon, one wonders what is it that all the politicians do with their ‘promise the moon speeches!). So, the league of political parties such as the Congress, Samajwadi Party and BSP seek a total ban of such a survey. On the contrary, we have a strong support which favors such an exercise. The BJP, NCP and the Left are case in point of parties which have supported the idea of such polls.
In the developed world, countries such as the USA and UK, opinion polls are termed as an open source justification of the government in power and results of the same are mirrored post elections. Considering these countries as matured democracies, the electorate is much more educated on many of the government schemes and has access to information from various sources. The scope of illegitimate electioneering speeches is not much and thus politicians don’t try to ‘educate’ the masses by long podium speeches. In a stark contrast to the Indian election scenario, the politicians have much scope to influence the electorate through much of politico mudslinging.
Our Inalienable Rights
The Indian electorate has every right provided by the Constitution to showcase their opinion on issues which affects them. This election season has seen around 14 million new electorates join the bandwagon and raise a voice for their betterment and future; banning opinion polls will be both unconstitutional and unethical, much to the chagrin of political parties which are against it right now.
Opinion polls are not just a statistical data to showcase an impending result, these can be a deep dive into various demographic measurements and main political parties can study the trend (of public mood and their viewpoints on contentious issues affecting their day to day life) and come up with a well versed political manifesto towards the run up to elections.
The ‘fourth estate’ of our constitution has been a power to reckon with and opinion polls can benchmark the legacy of a political establishment, thus providing for a substantial outcome for all of us which we rightfully deserve.
By Sanjeev Jaggi