Millennium Post

Good, bad and ridiculous

While that may not be the case in many parts of India, where voters ostensibly still vote en masse – as prescribed by the village, community or religious head – there is little logic, and even less reason, to believe she/he pings the electronic voting machine (EVM) irrespective of an opinion on the candidate. If that be so, universal franchise as an idea has lost its meaning and relevance in India. Period. But since it has not, as all the ongoing claims and counter-claims regarding ‘misleading’ the electorate bear out, we have to believe the Indian version of democracy is doing pretty well, thank you.

The recent call to ban opinion polls in media in the run-up to elections – made by the election commission (EC), and seconded by the Congress, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party, among others – comes in this context.

According to arguments forwarded by different Congress spokespersons, the small sample survey for these polls, their questionable authenticity and propensity to tilt the fence sitters to stamp in favour of the party topping the survey charts. While party spokesman Meem Afzal said the Congress has ‘only endorsed’ EC’s view on the issue and emphasized that all parties had ‘unanimously’ agreed in 2004 that results of such polls should not be put out by the media before all phases of elections draw to a close, Digvijaya Singh sought an outright ban.

‘Opinion polls should be stopped. In a state like Madhya Pradesh which has more than 3 crore voters how can you do a survey with just 2800 people? These should be stopped. Anyone can give some money and get the survey done. These people are not even authorised by the government,’ Singh said.

Another Congress spokesperson, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, tried to put the onus on the opposition. In a series of tweets on 5 November, he said, ‘EC restricts hundreds of things in MCC [model code of conduct] to ensure level playing field. Why not control op polls.... Why did NDA propose same?.... But for Soli Sorabjee’s adverse legal opinion NDA govt was about to stop op polls. Till recently BJP opposed: hypocritical and opportunistic.’ (Ellepses ours, to join tweets).

Singhvi then tried to show logic in his reason: ‘In age of huge money power, crony capitalism, proxy wars, paid news and paid social media inputters (sic), very easy to manufacture results.’

While the BJP is opposing the proposal for obvious reasons, as most polls done so far have shown the party faring favourably in not only the five states going to polls this month and the next but also the 2014 general elections, its leaders cannot run away from Singhvi’s assertion that the saffron party, too, has sought such bans in the past. In fact, all parties tend to ignore and pooh-pooh survey results that show them unfavourably. While it is nobody’s case that all pre-poll surveys are authentic, the logic that they should be barred since the polls can be bought and manipulated, as Digvijay Singh and many other leaders, even from other parties, contended, is farcical. Stretching the same logic, there have been allegations that votes can be, in fact are, manipulated, indeed bought. So should the EC ban elections as well?

And in the ‘age of money power, crony capitalism, proxy wars, paid news and paid social media’, as Abhishek Singhvi argued, it may not be that difficult to sway voters even otherwise. So what next? Ban election campaigning, too, since all candidates do not have the same depth of pocket to pay for these?

The basic argument behind the call for a ban on pre-poll surveys is the logic that it would make the undecided voters to go with the party that is seemingly sweeping the polls. Nothing can be further from the truth. If that was the case, pre-poll surveys would not have gone wrong – horribly wrong in many cases – and given grist to the ‘ban ’em’ proponents.

And if the argument that such surveys influence the less educated, illiterate and undecided sections of the population has any logic, Mohammed Ali Jinnah was not wrong when he opposed universal franchise and said voting rights should not be given to the illiterate and those who do not contribute to the coffers and help run the administration, as Khushwant Singh recounts in his latest book – The good, the bad, and the ridiculous.

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