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EC Wants Analysts, Astrologers to ‘Refrain’ From Predicting Result While Voting is On

The EC’s tough talk against those violating the ‘spirit’ of the election law is in contrast to its lenient attitude towards the largest selling newspaper which actually violated the letter of the law during the recent UP elections.

Supporters of the BJP celebrate their party's win in the Manipur assembly elections in Imphal. Credit: PTI

Supporters of the BJP celebrate their party’s win in the Manipur assembly elections in Imphal. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: In an ambitious attempt to shield voters from the opinions and predictions of journalists, political analysts and even astrologers, the Election Commission has urged the media to refrain from providing predictions of any kind until all polling within a specific election cycle has come to an end.

In an essentially advisory  ‘communication’ to the Press Council of India and all TV channels and media houses, the EC said on Thursday that “prediction of results of elections in any form or manner by way of predictions, etc. by astrologers, tarot card readers, political analysts or by any persons during the prohibited period is [a] violation of the spirit of Section 126A [of the Representation of People Act] which aims to prevent the electors of constituencies still going to polls from being influenced in their voting by such predictions about the prospects  of the various political parties.”

The EC used the words “spirit of Section 126A” advisedly as the the text of the law prohibits only exit polls:

“No person shall conduct any exit poll and publish or publicise by means of the print or electronic media or disseminate in any other manner, whatsoever, the result of any exit poll during such period, as may be notified by the Election Commission in this regard.”

Lest there be any scope for ambiguity, Section 126A of the RP Act also defines an “exit poll” as “an opinion survey respecting how electors have voted at an election or respecting how all the electors have performed with regard to the identification of a political party or candidate in an election.” Violations of this section can attract imprisonment for up to two years.

An Astrologer and his parrot. Credit: Rajesh Pamnani

An Astrologer and his parrot. Credit: Rajesh Pamnani

Since neither the subjective opinion of an analyst nor the ‘prediction’ of an astrologer or tarot card reader can conceivably be called an “opinion survey” of how electors have voted, the EC knows it cannot stretch the RP Act to criminalise those activities.

During the recently held elections to the assemblies of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur, the period during which exit polls were banned was from 7.00 am on February 4, when the first phase of elections commenced till 5.30 pm on March 9, when polling booths for the last phase of the UP election closed.

The EC’s advisory noted that “some of the TV channels telecast certain programmes projecting the number of seats likely to be won by political parties. This was done during the period exit polls were prohibited.” It pointed out that in one of the channels, the panelists on the show, who were persons from different fields, put forward the projected number of seats likely to be won by different parties in Uttar Pradesh.

Such predictions, the commission said, were a violation of the spirit of the ban on exit polls and were conceivably an attempt to influence voters without the (now illegal) crutch of an actual survey. “Such attempts merely to score brownie points against the competitors for merely commercial reasons do not behove well.”

The EC’s tough talk against those violating the ‘spirit’ of the election law is in contrast to its lenient attitude towards the largest selling newspaper which actually violated the letter of the law during the recent UP elections.

Though the EC ordered the registration of a case against the Dainik Jagran newspaper group for having published a story based on an exit poll after the first phase of the UP elections ended, no action has been taken against the proprietor of the group, who acknowledged that the exit poll was published via the newspaper’s advertising department. Despite evidence of the involvement of an RSS activist in the publication of the exit poll, the EC has not probed the role of the Sangh parivar or indeed the BJP’s leaders in the conspiracy. Indeed, with the UP police now under the direct control of chief minister Yogi Adityanath of the BJP, it is not clear what will happen to the criminal case that was registered following the EC’s complaint.

In the aftermath of the results, at least one political analyst has argued that the Dainik Jagran exit poll helped contribute to the BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh.

(With inputs from PTI)