Hindi daily Dainik Jagran published an exit poll claiming that the BJP has an upper hand in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, ruffling more feathers than it might have anticipated.
The dissemination of the exit poll violates the Election Commission’s rule that prohibits the publication of any exit polls until the elections is concluded, in all the phases in all states. “It is in clear violation of Section 126 A B of the Representation of the People Act and wilful disobedience of lawful directions of the Commission,” the body said before calling for a First Information Report to be filed against the paper.
Concurring with this, Raj Chengappa, President of the Editors Guild of India, told The Quint that by publishing the exit poll, the newspaper breached the Election Commission's specific orders about making public such polls. “All editors must be aware that the EC order does not allow you to publish an exit poll. Whoever violates this, then has to face the consequences that it entails.”
What We Know
The dissemination of the poll falls in murkier grounds because the 2017 guidelines of the Election Commission prohibits the sheer conduct of any exit poll.
Things moved swiftly after the FIR was filed. The Uttar Pradesh police on Tuesday arrested the online editor of the Dainik Jagran website, Shashank Shekhar Tripathi.
Within hours, a letter was sent to the Uttar Pradesh Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), stating that the exit poll was approved by Varun Sharma, deputy editor of Jagran’s English website, according to a report in The Indian Express. It further disclosed that the “editorial team had nothing to do with it” and ensured, quite prominently, that “appropriate action” has been initiated against Sharma.
Sanjay Gupta, the CEO and editor of the Dainik Jagran group, in a statement asserted that the poll was “carried by our advertising department”.
The Questions That Emerge
Should action be taken against the owners of the newspaper? Even if one believes the assumption that the poll was carried by their “advertising department”, it would not have been published without the nod of the owners.
“Before asking the question of accountability, you have to find out who is legally responsible for content in this individual case,” Changappa adds.
Although the editor of a newspaper is accountable for any content published in the paper under the Press and Registration of Books Act 1867, websites do not fall in this category, owing to the fact that the act was passed decades before digital sites came into being. The editor of a website, then, cannot be held responsible, unless proven otherwise.
In this case, the poll was carried out by the advertising department, implying that the decision was a monetary one. How fair is it then to hold the editor responsible for it is a question that needs an answer.
Though the Editor’s Guild of India has not taken a stand on the individual case of Dainik Jagran as yet, Chengappa does concede that the larger debate around the ban on polls should be discussed. “If anybody, not specifically Dainik Jagran, feels that the order is unfair, the best recourse is to go to the court and fight it, not violate it.”
Having said this, another pertinent question that emerges is this:
This is where things get interesting.
A Spate of Denials
The poll was conducted by a ‘Resource Development International’ (RDI), according to The Wire. There is more than one company with that name to have come forward to refute any association with the poll.
Rajeev Gupta, managing director of Resource Development International India (Pvt) Ltd, in an email to the publication denied any involvement with the poll.
The story in The Wire then goes on to reveal that another company bearing the same initials, RDI, is run by political commentator and psephologist Devendra Kumar.
Although the psephologist denied any involvement in the poll, he was spotted at the BJP’s headquarters in Lucknow on Tuesday by reporter Rohini Singh.
Amid a spate of denials and refutations, the job of the Election Commission intensifies – it needs to investigate who approved the exit poll, and more urgently, who paid for it.