For the last two days, as many of us, I too have been collecting ground level reports of the polling patterns in western Uttar Pradesh that went to the polls last Saturday. The fate of 73 assembly seats were decided last Saturday and by day after, another 67 constituencies in the state would have voted. More than 25 per cent of the state’s 403 seats. Until six days before the polls, all newspapers including ‘reputable’ English dailies were giving the BJP the edge until about four days before when sudden and systematic reports of ‘Jats deserting the BJP began creeping in.’ Now after the first phase of polling has been done, all silent and not so silent assessments are giving Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) the lead in the first round at least. In any case, more and more, the battle is being seen as a poll battle between the BSP and SP-Congress alliance
What then is dictating the media, Hindi print—with a massive readership—and television. Is it desperation, fear, money or all of the three? Sabrangindia had reported how the Dainik Jagran had put up a rather shameful public hoarding on a street in Lucknow recently. Yesterday it went several steps further. Defying all laws and norms, Dainik Jagran's ‘exit poll’ favouring BJP in UP polls was printed in flagrant violation of law. The key questions are, will the Election Commission act? Second, how much money was paid to the newspaper? Will there be an investigation ordered and the ‘facts’ ever become public?
Modi-Shah’s desperation is obvious in these last-minute attempts to sway the votes, but EC must not spare the newspaper either. Just a few days ago, Amit Shah’s video of ‘pleading’ (his body language and reputation is not given to ‘pleading’ normally but then desperate times call for desperate measures, na?) went viral revealing the extent to which there is panic in the saffron camp. Clearly the battle in India’s politically most significant state is emerging differently from what the key movers n shakers in Delhi wish.
So then, will the Election Commision really act? Unless the EC gives out a stern message with exemplary punishment and teaches the Jagran group a lesson after a thorough investigation is carried out into what went on behind the scenes, and whether the party shown favourably has promised remunerations, if any, more media houses will not think twice before committing this grave mistake, that too knowingly.]
It was only the ‘outrage’ that forced the report by Dainik Jagran, to ensure that the "poll" has since been taken down. The ‘report’ showed an exit poll with the BJP in the lead in the Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh.
Jagran acted in clear defiance of the Election Commission order and model code of conduct, the Jagran group’s botched attempt to favour the ruling party at the Centre, which has been eyeing the crucial UP Assembly polls as its first step to consolidating 2019 general elections, is not just a misstep, it’s blatant violation of law.
There are still four phases of the five-phase UP Assembly polls still to go, and with ground reports in other media outlets showing voters talking of either the SP-Congress alliance, or Mayawati’s sway, it is obvious that the Jagran report was and is meant to be a desperate, last-minute attempt to sway votes in favour of the BJP.
Dainik Jagran is not only the largest circulating Hindi language paper in India. It’s website says that it has a circulation of 38 lakh plus. Its featuring of the exit poll shows extreme disdain towards the rule of law. The results of the exit poll soon after polling for 73 seats in first phase of UP Assembly polls that
were held on February 11, showed the BJP in the lead, with the BSP coming in second, the SP-Congress alliance lagging behind, in a dismal third position.
To conduct and carry, in defiance of the law, an exit poll, ‘featuring voter feedback and so clearly favouring one formation’ when the very exercise is banned shows both desperation and brazenness.
Weeks back Sabrangindia had reported how the same newspaper had put up a hoarding on the streets of Lucknow criticising both the BSP and SP; clearly urging voters to vote for the BJP!
Was it pressure that made the Dainik Jagran go ahead with the 'exit poll' under pressure or to secure future prospects with the ruling party at the Centre? As per Section 126 A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the Election Commission “prohibits the conduct of any exit polls and publishing of their results for the elections that will be held between February 4 and March 8.” The ban on exit polls, since challenged earlier this month, has been upheld by Bombay High Court.
It is an age-old marketing ploy. Win-win for the winner. Exit polls not only influence voters to herd towards the party they think is winning already, for a relative securer future with less communal incidents after the polls, they also tend to prevent voters from picking their choice of candidate out of fear that in case the candidate is defeated but the party wins the Assembly polls, those responsible for defeating a candidate would face immense threats to life and bearings under the new government.
The EC Ban has to some extent stemmed this cynical rot. But, Jagran group’s exit poll – presenting a survey of a voter sample comprising about 5,700 people across 38 Assembly seats in west UP – was so clearly skewed in favour of a particular political party. This, when no official counting has begun, or can begin before all the phases are over, is not just distasteful, but illegal to the last letter.
One thing is more than clear and has been clear since 2013-2014. The rule of law and democratic niceties do not concern the inherently anti-Constitutional ruling dispensation and its media hoards. These laws have been evolved and established after much deliberation and to allow democracy to take its own course. Time and again, opinion polls have yielded grossly misleading results, showing that elections in India are not a matter of cold math based on just caste or religious calculations, but also include a heavy dose of emotions.
So far, the Election Commission has only sought a report on the Dainik Jagran stunt. We must hope as citizens committed to the rule of law that the EC goes further. Unless the EC gives out an exemplary punishment and teaches Jagran group a lesson after thorough investigation into what went on behind
the scenes, and whether the party shown favourably has promised remunerations, if any, more media houses will not think twice before committing this grave mistake, that too knowingly. We wait and watch, eagerly with bated breath.