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

Opposition parties are likely to see the Jagran report as not just deliberate defiance of the EC but also an attempt to try and influence UP voters in favour of the BJP even as six phases of the election still remain.

Note: This story was updated to include the Election Commission’s response and add more details about the possible identity of the polling agency RDI.

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 ‘Resource Development International’ (RDI) but mentioned no further details of either the organisation or the party which commissioned the survey.

A Google search of Resource Development International turned up a human resource company in Gurgaon with no background in conducting polls.

In an email, Rajeev Gupta, managing director of Resource Development International India (Pvt) Ltd, strongly refuted Dainik Jagran’s claim that his company had conducted the poll. “It is categorically stated that Resource Development International (I)Pvt. Ltd and anyone on its behalf is not in any manner whatsoever connect or involved with any exit poll with regard to UP assembly election,” he said.

When The Wire searched for the abbreviation ‘RDI’ in the likelihood that Dainik Jagran had wrongly expanded the abbreviation,  a polling agency – Research and Development Initiative – which is run by a psephologist, Devendra Kumar, turned up. Kumar’s RDI 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.

Speaking to 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. But he told the Indian Express that the poll “was carried by our advertising department”.

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.

As drafted in 2009, the guidelines state:

No result of any opinion poll or exit poll conducted at any time shall be published, publicised or disseminated in any manner, whatsoever, by print, electronic or any other media, at any time

(a) during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for closing of poll in an election held in a single phase; and

(b) in a multi-phased election, and in the case of elections in different States announced simultaneously, at any time during the period starting from 48 hours before the hour fixed for closing of poll in the first phase of the election and till the poll is concluded in all the phases in all states.

Note: The poll results were taken down from the Dainik Jagran website as of  11:30 am.

Update: The EC ordered district election officers in the 15 first-phase districts to file FIRs against the editorial heads of the newspaper on Monday afternoon. The editor of DainikJagran.com was arrested and bailed out but no action has yet been taken against the newspaper’s owners and management, or the polling agency and its sponsors.

Note: This article has been edited to add more details about polling organisations using the initials RDI, as well as the denial of Resource Development International India (Pvt) Ltd.