As the Election Commission proposal triggered a major debate on the way opinion polls are conducted, BJP, widely projected by pre-poll surveys to do well in the forthcoming assembly polls and Lok Sabha elections later, exploited it to its advantage. It attacked the Congress for its demand saying, a "loser" cannot seek to alter the rules of the game.
However, BJP ally, Akali Dal as well as BSP, SP and DMK have supported the ban on opinion polls while CPI(M) and CPI favoured regulating such polls, especially once the elections are announced and Model Code of Conduct comes into force.
The EC deadline for the purpose expired on Monday. The EC had sought the views of various parties on banning opinion polls after the government asked it to do so.
The BSP wrote to the Commission seeking a ban on opinion polls during elections. In its communication, the party said opinion polls do not reflect the correct picture.
CPI(M) and CPI said it has no objection on conduct of the opinion polls but the results should not be published once the election process starts and Model Code is in force. It also cautioned against manipulation of such polls.
The Congress wrote to the Commission on Saturday favouring restriction on the publication and dissemination of opinion polls during polls. It said random surveys were "erroneous", "lack credibility" and could be "manipulated" by vested interests.
Trinamool Congress, the ruling party in West Bengal, said it would go with the Election Commission on the issue.
While BJP is yet to write to the Commission, its leader Arun Jaitley said that though psephology is still maturing in India and some opinion polls do go wrong, it does not mean they should be banned. He said it is "unconstitutional" to ban opinion polls as it impinges on the freedom of speech and expression. "If the polls can be legitimately banned in this country, the next step would be to ban political commentators from giving assessments favourable to some and adverse to some others. A potential loser in an election cannot seek to alter the rules of free speech," Jaitley said. "There are opinion polls and opinion polls. Some have acquired credibility and some can easily be ignored. Some are cases of even 'participatory psephology'. Whatever may be the reliability or otherwise of these polls, can they be prohibited or banned?" he said in an article. Jaitley said the poll panel is best advised to "keep away from this controversy and allow the market place of democracy to accept or reject the findings of opinion polls".
Congress, on the other hand, said it has not sought a ban but only expressed its view favouring prohibition on such surveys which some of its leaders dismissed as a "racket", "farce" and "manipulated" exercise. Congress spokesman Meem Afzal said there is an attempt to portray that Congress is opposing opinion poll. "This is wrong. We did not say anything on our own. Off course we have given our opinion." He said the Congress only endorses the view of the EC on the issue. Party general secretary Digvijay Singh, however, minced no words in slamming opinion polls, saying "These have become a farce. They should be banned altogether. The kind of complaints, information that I have got, show that anybody can pay and get a survey as desired."
Seeking a restriction on publication of opinion polls during the poll process, CPI leader D Raja said they affect the level-playing field and influence non-committed and neutral voters.
CPI(M) leader and Polit Bureau Member Sitaram Yechury said, "Our belief is, if one wants to conduct opinion polls let them do it...Many parties conduct opinion polls to judge the position of their candidates. However, the results should not be published after the election process starts." He added that it was the "prerogative of the Election Commission to decide the time of limit." "There should be a ban on campaigning and spreading canards that happens through these opinion polls. There should be a time limit that until the elections are over one cannot publish these opinion polls," Yechury said.
Trinamool Congress leader Mukul Roy said his party will abide by the decision taken by the Election Commission.
Akali Dal has written to the Commission seeking a ban on them. Party spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema said opinion polls should be banned as they are "manipulated and affect the outcome of poll results."
However, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said the Congress opposition to opinion polls was based on fears as it can see the "writing on the wall" about its fate in upcoming elections.
In its reply on Saturday, the Congress said that it "fully endorses the views of the Election Commission of India to restrict publication and dissemination of opinion polls during the election".
"In fact the opinion polls during election are neither scientific nor is there any transparent process for such polls," the party said in its official response to the EC.