The Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), along with the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have lodged a complaint with the Election Commission of India (ECI) regarding post-poll surveys being conducted in Sikkim. It has been reported that on April 16, the Sikkim police detained Mukund Giri, the state coordinator of the Centre for the Study of Developing Studies (CSDS) for its Lokniti programme along with several field researchers based on a first information report (FIR) instituted by the SKM. The next day, the state BJP president, DB Chauhan, demanded that a thorough investigation be conducted regarding this alleged violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). Chauhan also mentioned that a team from India Today was also conducting a post-poll survey in West Sikkim and that too must be stopped. Sikkim went to the polls in the first phase on April 11.
The SKM’s spokesperson, Jacob Khaling alleged that some of the questions were ‘anti-national’. He also questioned the source of the stipend being paid to the students conducting the survey. Since the state coordinator of the CSDS is related to the Principal Secretary in the Chief Minister’s Office, he alleged collusion on the part of the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF).
The SDF has sought to distance itself from the post-poll surveys, and has jumped on the bandwagon to allege a violation of the MCC. What however needs to be understood is the basis of the ban on exit polls and to what extent the ECI’s ban stands.
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The ban on exit polls finds its basis in section 126A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. This section was included in the Representation of the People Act in 2009. The ECI had in 1998 attempted to ban the publication of exit polls and opinion polls during the election period. However, the matter went to the Supreme Court stating that the right to freedom of speech and expression was violated. However, the court did not rule on that contention, and instead held that under Article 324 (which vests the ECI with superintendence, direction and control of elections), the ECI did not have the power to impose such a guideline.
According to section 126A; “No person shall conduct any exit poll and publish or publicise by means of the print or electronic media or disseminate in any other manner, whatsoever, the result of any exit poll during such period, as may be notified by the Election Commission in the regard.” For the purposes of such a poll or survey in Sikkim which completed polling in the first phase on April 11, the ECI’s notification on April 8 specifically mentions that the period of ban on publication of a post-poll survey is from April 11 till May 19. However, the notification only bars the publication of the survey, not conducting it.
The CSDS issued a statement on the matter on April 17 stating that the study is a “part of its National Election Study 2019 and similar studies have been conducted by Lokniti-CSDS since 1996.” The state coordinator for Lokniti-CSDS has been reported to have highlighted that the ECI bars exit polls which take place as soon as the voter exits the polling station, whereas post-poll surveys take place two days after voting has taken place. He has also denied that the study is affiliated with any political party, and has maintained that the study is completely independent.
According to the CSDS website, the Lokniti-CSDS was established in 1997 by bringing various projects of the CSDS on elections, democratic politics and party politics under a single programme. The National Election Studies – for which the researchers were detained – is only one of the several studies conducted by the programme. What the opposition parties hope to achieve by creating a controversy over a routine exercise is anybody’s guess.
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