An Election Commission initiative to ask political parties their views on opinion polls turned into a full-fledged war of words on Monday with the Congress, SP, BSP and DMK demanding a ban on such polls and the BJP, Left and UPA ally NCP opposing it.
The Election Commission’s deadline for parties to respond on the issue ended on Monday. The Congress wrote to the EC last week favouring restrictions on the publication and telecast of opinion polls during elections.
BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi mocked this demand.
“Tomorrow the Congress may seek a ban on articles, editorials and blogs during elections… If they lose an election, they may seek a ban on the Election Commission,” he blogged.
Congress spokesperson Meem Afzal clarified that the party had merely endorsed the EC’s views and did not demand a ban on such polls but senior party leaders including general secretary Digvijaya Singh and Union minister Rajeev Shukla spoke out strongly on Monday in favour of a ban.
“Opinion polls should be stopped… In a state like Madhya Pradesh that has more than 3 crore voters how can you do a survey with just 2800 people? … Anyone can give some money and get the survey done,” said Digvijaya Singh.
But leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley said a ban was neither constitutionally permissible nor desirable as it would impinge on the right to free speech and maintained that only losers demand a ban on them.
“The poll panel (Election Commission) is best advised to keep away from this controversy…” Jaitley said in an article.
The BSP wrote to the EC in favour of a ban. “No outside influence which may affect and confuse the minds of voters should be permitted,” party leader Satish Chandra Misra wrote. Similarly, Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Aggarwal wrote that the methodology of such polls and their source of funding is suspect and should be banned.
Read More: Opinion polls should be conducted in obective manner, says NCP
The controversy whether or not to ban them has been going on since 1998. The EC has been advocating a change in the election law to restrict the publication and telecast of opinion polls once election dates are announced.
An all-party meeting in April 2004 favoured a ban but then Attorney General Soli Sorabjee said the move was “unconstitutional.”
Five years later, his successor, the late Milon K Banerjee told the government that “reasonable restrictions” could be imposed on these polls, a view endorsed by his successor and current AG Goolam E Vahanvati in June this year.
Though there is no restriction on any kind of opinion polls in the US and UK during elections, in Canada, opinion polls are not permitted three days before polling.