Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Violating Election Commission Ban, Dainik Jagran Runs ‘Exit Poll’ Showing BJP Ahead

New Delhi: In what may be the first major violation of the election code of conduct by the media in recent years, the Dainik Jagran group – publishers of the largest circulating Hindi daily in the country – released the results of an exit poll report soon after polling for 73 seats in the first phase of Uttar Pradesh assembly elections was held on February 11. The published report claims that the Bharatiya Janata Party will emerge as the top party in the first phase, followed by the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party-Congress combine.

The Dainik Jagran report said that the findings came from an organisation called RDI but mentioned no further details of either the organisation or the party which commissioned the survey. A google search turned up two RDIs – Research and Development International, and Research and Development Initiative. While the former is a human resource development firm that has no record of conducting opinion polls, the EC is also looking into the latter, which is run by a psephologist, Devendra Kumar, and is one of a handful of polling agencies that are considered close to the BJP. India Today in 2013 described RDI as an agency that worked closely with Arun Jaitley and Vasundhara Raje. RDI’s Kumar is columnist at a number at DailyO, a portal run by the India Today group, and makes no bones about his leanings towards the BJP.

When contacted by The Wire, however, Kumar denied any connection to the Jagran poll. “My company has not done any such thing,” he said. The Dainik Jagran report also called the survey a “feedback of voters” but followed all the norms and methodologies of an exit poll – which is banned by the Election Commission of India until the last phase of voting in the current set of assembly elections ends. Acting under Section 126 A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the EC has “prohibited 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 was challenged by a Goa-based media group earlier this month but upheld by the Bombay high court.

The Jagran report claimed that a randomly-selected sample of 5700 voters spread across 38 assembly constituencies in western UP, which went to the polls on February 11, were interviewed. It also said that in each seat, 10 polling booths were chosen using a systematic random sampling method and that the results were calculated by a probability method proportionate to population.

Opposition parties are likely to see the Jagran report as not just deliberate defiance of the EC’s ban but also an attempt to try and influence UP voters in favour of the BJP even as six phases of the election still remain. Indeed, as soon after the report came out, BJP president Amit Shah said at a press conference said that his party would win 50 seats in the first phase. While it is not unconventional for a party leader to make such claims, the fact that the Jagran group went ahead and violated the ban is likely to raise misgivings about the media group’s independence.

“I am sure the ECI would enquire into this and see whether there is a violation of the code of conduct or not. Unfortunately, the ECI does not have any penal powers but if the incident is found to be true, it can see what it can do in future and give directions for an FIR to be filed against the violating party,” former chief election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy told The Wire. Similarly, former CEC N. Gopalaswami said, “Any form of exit poll is not allowed. The violating party will be prosecuted for trying to influence the voter. It is a very serious charge. The ECI can go as far as filing as filing a criminal case and get the violating party arrested.

In response to The Wire‘s report, the EC’s information officer said: “Very important…ECI has taken cognisance of the report regarding the conduct of Exit Poll by Resource Development International and Publication/dissemination of results by Dainik Jagran in clear violation of the Sec 126 A &B of RP Act and wilful disobedience of lawful directions of ECI under IPC Sec 188. Reports have been sought from the CEO UP urgently.”

Dainik Jagran‘s editor Sanjay Gupta could not be reached at the moment at the time of publication of this story. The ECI first issued guidelines banning the publication of exit polls in 1998. When this was challenged in the Supreme Court in 1999, the commission withdrew its guidelines but reinstated them following representations from all political parties and a subsequent direction from the Supreme Court in 2009 that “the Election Commission would be at liberty to issue any other appropriate direction” until such time pending legislation on the matter is passed... read more: