India Today - - INSIDE -

This edi­tion of IN­DIA TO­DAY comes to you at a time when the Gov­ern­ment is lead­ing a move to ban opin­ion polls ahead of state or na­tional elec­tions. Its con­tention is that such polls are not cred­i­ble, can be fudged to favour cer­tain po­lit­i­cal par­ties, and in­flu­ence vot­ing choices by push­ing vot­ers to­wards the pro­jected win­ners. The BJP’s re­sponse to this is that only a los­ing side wants opin­ion polls stopped, which is ironic, con­sid­er­ing it had been on board in 2004 when an all-party meet­ing con­vened by the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion ( EC) had unan­i­mously agreed that opin­ion polls should be banned from the date of no­ti­fi­ca­tion of the polls.

The ex­ist­ing EC guide­lines say that opin­ion poll re­sults must be aired up to 48 hours be­fore the end of the first phase of polling. In the forth­com­ing As­sem­bly elec­tions, vot­ing starts in Ch­hat­tis­garh on Novem­ber 11, which means opin­ion polls for all five states must be aired by Novem­ber 9. It’s an ab­surd rul­ing con­sid­er­ing Delhi will go to the polls only on De­cem­ber 4 and votes for all five states will be counted on De­cem­ber 8, al­most a month af­ter the opin­ion poll re­sults are made pub­lic. Exit poll re­sults, on the other hand, can be shared only half an hour af­ter the en­tire vot­ing process is over, as per the Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Peo­ple (Amend­ment) Act, 2009.

This mag­a­zine was the first in In­dia to print opin­ion polls. Thirty-five years ago, we had asked In­dian Mar­ket Re­search Bureau, an in­de­pen­dent Mum­bai-based agency, to carry out an opin­ion poll in the four met­ros (June 16-30, 1978). In 1980, we were the first mag­a­zine to take opin­ion polls se­ri­ously when we pre­dicted Indira Gandhi would re­turn to power af­ter the dis­as­trous Janata Party rule when al­most ev­ery­one else was ex­pect­ing the op­po­site.

Opin­ion polls are recog­nised around the world as a le­git­i­mate jour­nal­is­tic ex­er­cise. While polls some­times turn out to be in­cor­rect—our mag­a­zine, too, has been wrong on oc­ca­sion—a clear in­di­ca­tion of their gen­eral ac­cu­racy is that only a few agen­cies con­duct them, and con­tinue to sur­vive on the ba­sis of their cred­i­bil­ity.

The In­dia To­day Group-ORG 2013 opin­ion poll pre­dicts a saf­fron surge across all four ma­jor states go­ing for elec­tions, while throw­ing up some in­ter­est­ing trends. Thirty-eight per cent of the re­spon­dents in Delhi said price rise was the Sheila Dik­shit gov­ern­ment’s big­gest fail­ure while the next best choice for chief min­is­ter is the out­lier chal­lenger Arvind Ke­jri­wal, al­though his

AAP gets only sin­gle-dig­its seats. In Mad­hya Pradesh, 46 per cent said the gov­ern­ment’s wel­fare schemes were work­ing but still saw Chief Min­is­ter Shivraj Singh Chouhan as a Hin­dutva leader. In Ch­hat­tis­garh, Chief Min­is­ter Ra­man Singh was twice as pop­u­lar as his ri­val Ajit Jogi of the Congress but his party’s tally fell, al­though it still main­tained a slim ma­jor­ity. In Ra­jasthan, 41 per cent said ris­ing crime against women was their big­gest griev­ance but the dif­fer­ence in the pref­er­ence of chief min­is­ters be­tween Ashok Gehlot and Va­sund­hara Raje was mar­ginal.

It is truly be­yond me why the EC should con­sider ban­ning opin­ion polls in spite of all the re­stric­tions al­ready placed on them. Com­men­ta­tors of vary­ing tal­ent and prej­u­dice can make what­ever pre­dic­tions they want right through the elec­tions and the me­dia can head­line them. But a method which has a bet­ter chance of be­ing ac­cu­rate be­cause it is not anec­do­tal is up for elim­i­na­tion. Are they be­ing banned be­cause peo­ple be­lieve them and may be in­flu­enced by them, or be­cause they are mo­ti­vated and de­signed to mis­lead? Para­noid politi­cians are throw­ing the baby out with the bath wa­ter. It is not only an as­sault on our democ­racy, which prides it­self on a free me­dia, but an in­sult to the wis­dom of the In­dian voter who has of­ten sur­prised both poll­sters and politi­cians.

(Aroon Purie)


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