The CPI-M letter said, “The absence of absolute unambiguous firm action seriously questions the ECI’s responsibility for ensuring a level playing field, not to speak of weeding out electoral malpractices with a heavy hand”
NEW DELHI — The CPI-M, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has asked the Election Commission of India (ECI) what action has been taken against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for its failure to include the expenses spent on the campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections through NaMo TV, in its expenditure report to the Election Commission.
The party termed the non-declaration of these expenses as an “electoral offence”.
In a letter to Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the NaMo TV channel was launched during the election campaign and in violation of the law. The channel was wound up after the polls.
“The spokesperson of the ECI had acknowledged that the channel run by DTH platforms was paid for by the BJP,” the letter said, adding, “However, now it has been revealed that the BJP in its report to the ECI on its expenditure account has not shown this. This is an outright electoral offence. The immediate question that arises, has the ECI initiated any penal action against the BJP on this account? If not, why not?”
It added the “absence of absolute unambiguous firm action seriously questions the ECI’s responsibility for ensuring a level playing field, not to speak of weeding out electoral malpractices with a heavy hand”.
The letter also raised concern over the rule of digital-only campaign specified by the ECI for the Bihar assembly elections in view of the coronavirus scare. Yechury said his party opposed this rule pointing to the BJP’s “massive resources” to launch a digital campaign as compared to other parties.
“On the eve of the 2019 general elections, the then BJP President, Amit Shah, had publicly stated that the party, with its network of 32 lakh WhatsApp groups, can make any message, true or false, viral within hours… And now on the eve of the Bihar elections, the party has kicked off a virtual election campaign by putting up 72,000 LED TV monitors for Shah’s speech.
“After holding 60 virtual rallies, the BJP has claimed that its election campaign efforts would involve 9,500 IT Cell heads who will coordinate 72,000 WhatsApp groups, one for each polling booth, of which 50,000 have been formed in the last two months. The amount of expenditure that would be involved to put together such manpower for a technology-driven system is simply mind-boggling,” the letter reads.
“Even with figures for corporate contributions available in the public domain before the anonymous funding through electoral bonds came into vogue, it was clear that the gap between the BJP and all other parties added together in securing corporate poll funding has widened manifold. Obviously, with the anonymous corporate funds without any upper ceiling will certainly be the death knell for electoral democracy,” the CPI-M letter concluded.
Bihar’s opposition party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, and the Lok Janshakti Party, a constituent of the ruling National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, have also opposed virtual campaigns.