The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has written to the Election Commission of India (ECI) on why opinion polls should be allowed while exit polls banned.
The Congress had earlier written to the ECI seeking restriction on opinion polls ahead of the 2014 general elections. The party had contended that these polls could be manipulated and lacked credibility.
On Saturday, Union law minister Kapil Sibal even accused the BJP of “turning turtle” after seeking a ban on such surveys earlier.
In its letter to the ECI, the BJP said opinion polls were fundamentally different from exit polls.
“The sample which is used in the opinion poll consists of people who may or may not vote, whereas exit polls consist only of persons who had actually participated in the voting,” said BJP’s national election cell convenor R Ramakrishna in the letter on November 6.
Exit polls appear to breach the fundamental condition of secrecy that governs the exercise of franchise, the BJP said.
On the other hand, any restriction on opinion polls would fall in the realm of a restriction on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in the Constitution, it added.
The saffron party held that the grounds on which the ECI was considering restriction on opinion polls did not get covered by the postulates prescribed in Article 19(2) of the Constitution, which permits restriction for the sake of security and integrity of India.
Last week, senior BJP leader Arun Jaitely had said a ban on opinion polls was neither constitutionally permissible nor desirable as they were part of free speech. He had said only losers demanded a ban on them.
“The poll panel is best advised to keep away from this controversy and allow the marketplace of democracy to accept or reject the findings of opinion polls,” Jaitley said.
“If the opinion polls can be legitimately banned in this country, the next step would be to ban political commentators from giving assessments favourable to some and adverse to some others. A potential loser in an election cannot seek to alter the rules of free speech.”
In September 1999, The Supreme Court had struck down the ECI’s 1998 order issuing guidelines on regulating opinion and exit polls.
The apex court had observed that the EC did not have the power to enforce the guidelines. The guidelines were later withdrawn.
The BJP’s letter to the poll panel also recalled that the all-party meeting convened by the ECI in 2004 recommended that publishing results of both exit and opinion polls should be proscribed from the day of issue of notifications till the completion of polls.
“While examining this recommendation, the law ministry consulted the Attorney General who is reported to have opined that such a prohibition would be a breach of Article 19 (1) of the Constitution of India. Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution is included in Part III —Fundamental rights — and protects the right to freedom of speech and expression,” the BJP’s letter says.
“Article 19 (2), however, permits certain reasonable restrictions which can be justified in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency of morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”