It was a turkey shoot. On Wednesday, the Rajya Sabha passed the Representation of the People (Second Amendment) Bill, 2008. While the legislation sounds innocuous, it does great damage: It restricts information to potential voters during an election, something necessary to make an informed political choice. It bans exit polls.
From a politician’s perspective, exit polls are damaging stuff. They have the potential to unleash a bandwagon effect in the course of an electoral season. In India, a general election is usually staggered over many phases. One state may poll one day, another one the next day. If exit poll predictions for one phase of the polling are broadcast one day, they have the potential to affect voter outcome and choices in the next phase. This mortifies our politicians. But with a ban on exit polls, voter behaviour becomes more predictable. It also has the potential to bestow an unfair advantage on incumbent governments and members of Parliament. So it is not surprising that such a ban is being given legal sanction.
In most walks of life, people imitate each other, for instances, in trends, fashions, choosing a book (best-sellers are good examples of such choices) and other stuff. Why should political choices be immune from this current? Curmudgeons will say politics merits seriousness. We say no. For, all that “seriousness” will do with an exit poll ban is to ensure the election and re-election of undeserving candidates.
Exit polls have the potential to unleash “waves” of change. (Imagine voters in Maharashtra taking a cue from those in Assam, exit polls ensuring that. Many a cookie will crumble.) What is wrong with that? In fact, it will make representatives more aware of the demands and problems of their voters. Unsurprisingly, this regressive legislation had all-round political support.
The saving grace here is that when the Bill becomes law, it could be subject to judicial scrutiny. It should be. There is, of course, the danger that exit polls can be manipulated and then used for unhealthy political purposes. But there are other ways to check the problem, say, by regulation. A blanket ban, however, is no solution.
Exit poll ban: unfair advantage to ruling parties and governments? Tell us at email@example.com