I do not agree with the view that the Congress has lost faith in democratic values and is therefore advocating a ban on opinion polls or that it is trying to curb free speech. I think its asking the EC to ban opinion polls is more of a panic reaction: simply put, the Congress doesn’t know how to handle the Modi juggernaut.
Let’s face the facts. Almost all opinion polls conducted in recent months have shown Modi far ahead of Rahul Gandhi in popularity. Most surveys also indicate a fall in the number of seats Congress may get in the next Lok Sabha elections. But the ruling party is not willing to accept this. It likes to believe there’s no “Modi wave” and that all these polls have been manipulated by the Gujarat strongman. There are many in Congress who directly blame psephologists for create a fake impression that Modi is the most popular leader in the country today.
Usually, the demand to restrict free flow of speech comes from the potential loser in elections. Opinion polls are rubbished, sample size is questioned and psephologists are painted as villains who manipulate data for money. While it’s the Congress today which is advising the EC to ban opinion polls, let me remind you it was the BJP in 2004 which supported restricting opinions polls between the date of notification of polls until the last day of voting. At that time, BJP leaders were unwilling to accept the fact that their popularity had gone down even while their India was ‘shining’.
Political leaders are not oblivious of the right to free speech enshrined in our Constitution. They are also familiar with the fact that unlike other fundamental rights, the right to free speech cannot be restricted on the ground of any undefined reason. I have no doubt that any move to restrict free speech will be struck down by Supreme Court. There are several cases in which it has held that the fundamental right to free speech cannot be compromised.
In the United Kingdom and the United States, there is no embargo period for publishing pre-election opinion polls. It is no secret that opinion polls in America play a major role in guiding the political parties in formulating their strategy during the elections. Psephologists are lured to help out, but are never made the subject of derision or ridicule. Even at home, both the BJP and the Congress are known to take the help of their own pollsters to decide on candidates. How is it that that psephologists hired by them are accurate and those hired by the media are manipulated?
It is not my case that all opinion polls are a model of scientific rigour. Nor is it my view that the methodology and accuracy of the opinion polls should not be questioned. I think that opinion polls and surveys should only be taken as indicators, as straws in the wind. They should be open to scrutiny. It should be left to the people to accept or reject the opinion polls.
Opinion polls are part of the process of educating and enlightening the voter. Any politically motivated move to restrict them is bound to boomerang. The Congress should rather work on its strategy to regain lost ground. And, the BJP should make a commitment that it will not take a U-turn on opinion polls if it comes to power.
The writer is chairman and editor-in-chief, India TV; E-mail your columnist: rajatsharma AT indiatvnews.com