After RTI Activist Reveals EC-BJP Link, Maharashtra Poll Chief Says Agency Was Selected by Govt


Clarion India

NEW DELHI – Maharashtra Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Baldev Singh has denied the allegations that he had hired an agency with alleged links with Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT cell to handle the social media advertisements during the 2019 assembly polls and clarified that it was the state information department which selected the agency to do the promotion.

The CEO said the claims that he had engaged the agency were “misleading and incorrect”. A statement put out by him said, “As per the standard practice, the electoral awareness campaign was launched through an agency engaged by the Directorate General of Information and Public Relations of the Maharashtra government. They, in turn, followed the rules in force for selecting an appropriate agency for public awareness and it is not done by the CEO office.”

Last week, a political controversy cropped up in Maharashtra after it was revealed by RTI activist Saket Gokhale that the state Election Commission had hired the services of an agency which had links with the BJP for election-related advertisements during the 2019 assembly polls. The firm is said to have provided services to the BJP, the party that is currently in power at the Centre.

Singh’s statement came after the Election Commission of India asked its Maharashtra office to file a report on the allegations.

The revelations have drawn a fierce debate in the state as political parties are terming it a case of conflict of interests even as ECI has said that it will probe the claims made by Gokhale on Twitter on the basis of revelations in a reply to the RTI application he had filed.

Gokhale also claimed in a tweet that the agency was owned by a youth leader of the BJP, Devang Dave, who is associated with the party’s IT cell which is assigned to handle the campaign on social media and digital platforms.

The Congress, which is part of the coalition government with the Shiv Sena in the state, had asked the CEO to come clean on the matter. The party had posed several questions, including whether the commission hired the agency which had links with the BJP, whether the commission shared data with the BJP- linked company and whether the election process was vitiated.

While demanding an inquiry into the matter, Congress leader and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan alleged that data of voters might have been shared with the BJP-linked company.

Gokhale had said he had found that the address of the advertisement agency posted by the Maharashtra Chief Electoral Officer was ‘202 Pressman House, Vile Parle, Mumbai’ which is the address of the Signpost India, a company, he claimed, had close ties with BJP leader and former Maharashtra CM David Fadnavis.

“The address 202 Pressman House was also used by a digital agency called Social Central. This agency is owned by Devang Dave who is the national convener of IT and social media for BJP’s Youth Wing Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha,” Gokhale wrote in his tweet.

The building housed the offices of Signpost India and Social Central. Both companies worked in social media advertising during the 2019 polls. Reports said that Social Central had now shifted to a different address.

According to India Today, Dave, owner of Social central, said that the company used to provide digital services to Signpost. He refused the allegations as “completely baseless”.

During the polls, the Election Commission makes use of traditional and social media to run an awareness campaign to attract the public to take part in the election process. Moreover, it also keeps an eye on the social media pages of parties and political leaders to keep a check on the violation of code of conduct.

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