Thwarted: Opinion poll at JNU

By: Pheroze L. Vincent
Updated: 05 Sep 2016 09:28 AM

New Delhi: An attempt to conduct a rare opinion poll at JNU ahead of this week's student union elections has been blocked by the university's election committee, made up of students.

The election is expected to be a three-way fight between the Sangh-backed ABVP, a Left alliance between the CPIML Liberation's All India Students Association (AISA) and the CPM-backed SFI, and the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association (Bapsa).

Ankit Hans, an engineer from IIT Roorkee who is studying economics at JNU, was trying to conduct the opinion poll all by himself, seeking a sample size of 500 by polling at different parts of the 1,000-acre campus.

Yesterday, he was stopped by members of the election commission --- "neutrals" elected by students at the general body meetings of the various centres on the campus.

"I was standing at Sabarmati dhaba with a box and sheets carrying the names of candidates. I was asking people to tick against the candidate they would vote for," Hans said.

"Their choice was secret and they had the option of giving their views on the form."

Half of JNU's 8,500-odd voters usually vote. No one from the university this newspaper spoke to could remember any opinion poll ever conducted ahead of student elections.

The Lyngdoh Committee recommendations that apply to student elections in India do not mention opinion polls.

"This was a personal project. I wanted to poll before and after the presidential debate of September 7 and study the trend," Hans said.

"I eventually planned to publish it somewhere after I had identified which mathematical model I would use to analyse the data."

Hans, who had quit the ABVP earlier this year in protest against caste bias, said members of the election committee, accompanied by security guards, approached him.

"They took me to their office and said I couldn't do this without permission. I then wrote out a letter requesting permission, which was denied today."

The letter from the committee's chief election commissioner, Ishita Manna, cites a clause in the committee's model code of conduct that bans any public activity without permission during the poll period.

She has also cited an Election Commission of India order restricting the publication of opinion polls 48 hours before the end of polling. JNU votes on September 9.

"As we have no control over the publication of the results of his opinion poll and cannot verify its sample size, we have denied permission for it," Manna told this newspaper.

"If it's allowed, and if he publishes the results before polling, it will influence voters."

Senior Supreme Court lawyer K.V. Dhananjay said the Election Commission's orders don't apply to university polls.

"Banning an opinion poll in a university is not legally tenable. The university cannot rely on the EC's rules and has to frame its own rules."

Former JNU students' union president Mona Das, who now teaches political science at Delhi University, burst into giggles when she heard about the attempt to conduct the opinion poll.

"I can't remember it ever happening. It's really funny that it has already been banned," she said. "Opinion polls can have an impact when the contest is close."

Bapsa is eyeing the votes of Left groups that are not part of the alliance, such as the CPI-backed All India Students Federation (AISF), to which outgoing students' union president Kanhaiya Kumar belongs, and the Democratic Students Federation (DSF), a splinter of the SFI.

Former SFI and DSF activist Anshul Trivedi, who studies politics at JNU and is a newspaper columnist, told this newspaper: "Bapsa's presidential candidate, Sonpimple

Rahul, has a dedicated vote bank. He is also attracting the votes of many Leftists as the AISF and DSF are not in the alliance."

He added: "Kanhaiya won last year despite not aligning with any of the larger groups as the polls are becoming more about personalities and less about party loyalties. The SFI-AISA panel is likely to win but it will be a close fight."

Das said that JNU had witnessed its closest contest in 2001, when the ABVP won the union president's post for the first time. Sandeep Mahapatra won by a single vote against the SFI's Vijoo Krishnan, she said.

"That year, AISA candidate Manisha Sethi, who came third, attracted several votes mobilised by SFI rebel Nasir Husein," she said.

"The following year, Manisha got only a third of the votes she had polled in 2001, as the voters feared that another division in the Left vote would again benefit the ABVP."

Das said that JNU had only a few voters who decided at the last moment. "Just before polling, groups of like-minded students meet and decide which Left candidate is strongest," she said.

"This happens when the ABVP candidate has a chance to win. Left voters try to prevent that by trying to guess who to vote for."

The Telegraph, Calcutta