BJP and DMDK favour these polls, while Congress opposes them

Instead of confining the consultation on banning opinion polls to just political parties, the Election Commission should have invited all stakeholders of the election process in the country, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam presidium chairman Panruti S. Ramachandran said on Friday.

Participating in a discussion on ‘Do opinion polls inform or mislead voters,’ organised by The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, he said that under the Constitution, the Election Commission had to ensure free and fair elections, and it could do so only by providing every party with a level playing field. Mr. Ramachandran was answering a question whether the EC could come to a conclusion on opinion polls based on the views of political parties alone.

Recalling the former Attorney-General, Soli Sorabjee’s view that under Article 19(1) (a) and 19 (2) of the Constitution, there was no ground for banning opinion polls, The Hindu Editor-in-Chief N. Ravi said the argument that opinion polls might influence undecided voters was not valid enough to invoke a ban.

The discussion witnessed divergent views: the BJP and the DMDK favoured opinion polls, while the Congress opposed it as they could prejudice the outcome of elections. The CPI, the CPI(M) and the DMK favoured opinion polls with certain restrictions. Instead of backing a blanket ban, these parties want transparency and a set of guidelines and procedures.

Mr. Ramachandran said elections were fought on defining issues, and the outcome depended on many factors, not merely on opinion polls. The positive aspect of opinion polls was that they indicated a trend and made parties plan ahead while keeping their house in order.

BJP vice-president H. Raja said banning opinion polls would be a retrograde step, as the argument that they influenced voters had no basis. He pointed to the 1977 general election, and said that though the entire propaganda mechanism was vested with the government at the Centre, the Congress lost.

Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president B.S. Gnanadesikan said opinions polls were not justified as they influenced the outcome of elections. He argued that opinion polls were harmful as they were conducted by agencies assigned by media houses, which, barring a few exceptions, were controlled by political parties. “They try to manipulate the election results.”

DMK MP T.K.S. Elangovan said the ban should be enforced from the day when the model code of conduct came into force. “The[se] polls have an impact on undecided voters.”

CPI(M) State secretary G. Ramakrishnan said his party had written to the EC, favouring a ban for a reasonable period of time. “Everything should be transparent. Who is funding the survey? Who is the media partner? Nothing should be hidden from the people.”

CPI secretary D. Pandian wondered whether there was a mechanism to study the mind of so many people and said subjecting a voter to assessment would mean subjecting him to prejudice. “It is nothing but trading on the mind of the people and will lead to political prognosis. It was more to influence than inform people.”

N. Ram, chairman, Kasturi & Sons Ltd., who moderated the discussion, endorsed Mr. Ramachandran’s view that the media itself could work out a regulatory framework for the publication of opinion poll results.