Why is the knee-jerk reaction among Indians to indulge in bans? What did the burning and banning (figuratively; in reality it was withdrawing from circulation and pulping) of Wendy Doniger’s book on Hindus achieve or is likely to achieve? How many people’s views were affected, and of those whose views were changed, how does it matter? Assume the worst case scenario—some people in India, and only in India, actually believed what Doniger said about Hinduism. So what?
This is 2014, and such nonsense prevails because of the Indian’s irrational exuberance for “authority”. Back in 2004, the Election Commission (EC) of India came up with an anti-constitutional, anti-liberal view of banning opinion polls a full 45 days before the first date of polling! This was then, as expected, rejected by the Supreme Court. The UPA government, not to have such minor matters as the Constitution come in the way of its interventionist ideology, amended the Representation of the People Act to support a ban of 2 days for opinion polls and no exit polls before all polls were completed. Possibly because of this “victory” over the Indian Constitution, the 45-day ban is again making the rounds. Isn’t it time that we question the EC’s view as stupid, irrational, and totally devoid of any legal or moral or practical content?
It all started quite sensibly with MS Gill’s Election Commission imposing restrictions on opinion and exit polls in February 1998. This policy was for no prohibition or restriction of opinion polls until just two days prior to polling; and for no exit polls until 48 hours before the last polling day. As can be seen from the accompanying table, this was a reasonably enlightened policy and well within “best practices” in other democracies. Many countries have zero restrictions on opinion polls. If there is a ban, it is of 1-2 days duration. The median is 0 days and the average ban is of 2-days duration. Italy is a clear outlier with a ban for a full 15 days before polling. The extreme outlier is the EC’s proposed 45-days ban.
Did the 2004 election commission look at any data before coming out with their learned prescription? Their conclusion, which they keep reiterating presumably every time they get prodded by an interested political party, has not changed all these years, especially years in which internet and social media penetration has expanded manifold. The effects