Poll panel seeks to gag media

Poll Panel seeks to gag media
Poll Panel seeks to gag media

Poll Panel anticipates media to remain quite

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]H[/dropcap]ave power, will exercise it—this seems to be the maxim that the powers-that-be in our country scrupulously follow. So, the Election Commission has come up with its fatwa that nobody should predict numbers regarding parties and coalitions winning seats in their comments during polls. The Commission wants to gag not only political analysts but also astrologers and tarot readers. Given a chance, it seems the poll panel would declare silence zone in the entire area in which elections are held at any point of time!

Thankfully, it is an advisory, though the intent to further restrict free speech is clear as day. It said, “The commission is of the view that predictions of results of elections in any form or manner by way of predictions etc., by astrologers, tarot readers, political analysts or by any persons during the prohibited period is a violation of the spirit of Section 126A.”

One wishes that the poll panel tsars were as concerned about the spirit of the Indian Constitution as well. They need to be reminded that “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship” is enshrined in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution. Also, that all Acts and their sections have to be in consonance with the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

Section 126A of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, bans exit poll in the middle of an election on the assumption that it could influence voting in later rounds. While this ban in multi-phase polls, which have become a norm, may have some merit, disallowing any analysis or opinion about winners is indubitably an assault on freedom of expression.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he Commission is upset with a prominent news channel whose March 8th, 2017 show featured an astrologer, tarot card readers, and political analysts forecasting the outcomes of the Assembly polls in five states. The panel had allowed the publication and broadcast of exit polls only on March 9, 2017. “Such attempts merely to score brownie points against competitors for merely commercial reasons do not behave well,” the poll panel said in its communiqué.

Unfortunately, the Congress has supported the poll panel in its bid to throttle free speech. “It is a forward step. The EC must also take cognizance of so-called surveys conducted by parties during elections,” party spokesperson Tom Vadakkan told Hindustan Times (March 31, 2017).

In the same newspaper report, Press Council of India member Rajeev Ranjan Nag made an important point: “This seems to violate the freedom of speech and expression, under Section 19(1) of the Constitution, if it applies only to journalists and analysts; even politicians and pollsters should be barred from making projections.”

Actually, it is Article 19(1) of the Constitution, but that is beside the point. The issue here is that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander—or, in our context, what is bad for journalists is also bad for politicians. The suppression of free speech is a weapon of mass destruction; once unleashed, it doesn’t discriminate between its victims.

I am quite sure that if the Commission is successful and political analysis is banned during elections, it will want to proscribe news reporting.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]E[/dropcap]vidently, the poll panel is a control freak. At the heart of its institutional mindset is the belief that the people of India are so gullible that they can be easily fooled by (unscrupulous) analysts and astrologers; therefore, the naïve and credulous voters ought to be shielded from the shenanigans of scheming commentators, astrologers, etc. And who else can save the poor electorate but that knight in shining armor—the Election Commission of India?

The Commission’s tsars may like us to believe in such fairy tales, but what they don’t realize is that not everybody gets hoodwinked by their mythologizing, certainly not writers like me.

It is a time the entire media and all public intellectuals stood up against the poll panel’s freedom-restricting machinations and disregarded its advisory with the disdain it deserves.

1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

Ravi Shanker Kapoor
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