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Millennium Post

Is there anything sacred in politics?

It seems the polls are more likely to be rigged than not, whether they be electoral predictions or electoral predilections. With the surfacing of the disturbing news of opinion polling agencies fudging data and tweaking facts to present political parties in more favourable or unfavourable light, of course for hefty sums of money, once again the debate on whether the Election Commission should continue to allow the opinion polls or ban them for a significant amount of time before the actual battle of the ballots. As the sting operation by NewsExpress television channel has established, agencies, masquerading as survey and research organisations, are actually fronts to pad up the electoral prospects of political parties, either through direct media blitzkrieg or by floating the so-called ‘independent’ agency figures predicting poll chances of various formations and candidates. Evidently, this wide-scale tweaking of data happens with the connivance of senior journalists in reputed media houses, the corporate bosses of those media outlets as well as the political top brass with which the news channel or newspaper has entered a covert or overt understanding. This shameful mishandling of figures not only is a travesty of the foundational principle of the fourth estate, that of absolute impartiality, but also is a mockery of the currently fashionable reliance of the modern, particularly urban Indian, voter on numbers. Clearly, in the case of these shady opinion polls, the tenet ‘numbers don’t lie’ does not hold any water, since what they later present as the permissible ‘margin of error’ is nothing but the outcome of nefarious minds at work to tilt the balance of politics towards specific, naturally financially muscled, parties and candidates.

Even as the AAP leader Yogendra Yadav asks for a cautious approach to polling agencies in the wake of the latest revelations, it is really up to the government to implement rules to eliminate malpractices in the media sector. Of course, a blanket ban on opinion polls is not the solution, since that will amount to throwing the baby with the bath water. Instead, rigorous norms and rules must be put forward so as to extract the most accurate and unbiased data from these agencies. Every time there is a survey, the media houses using the data as well as people reading or viewing the studies in papers or on television must also be provided with the complete trajectory of obtaining the data, along with other declarations such as source of funding. Truly independent experts should be brought in at all levels to both cumulate and verify the data and it must ensured that no untoward corporate or political influence shows up in the figures thus gathered. Instead of banning polls, whether exit or opinion, a good dose of self-regulation, broad sets of revamped rules as well as transparency in data collection and methodology would bring in a culture of accountability and allow the studies to carry on, albeit in a much more authoritative manner. Moreover, if political parties are exposed to be buying up the services of such agencies, they must be summarily dismissed from contesting the elections.
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