Government

ECI Knew of Appointment of Social Media Agencies Linked to BJP: RTI Activist Saket Gokhale

Questioning the ECI's independence, Gokhale put out a series of tweets linking TSD Corporation and ADG Online to both the Modi government and the poll panel.

New Delhi: Transparency activist Saket Gokhale, who last week had alleged that an advertising and social media company owned by a BJP office-bearer was hired by the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Maharashtra to issue election-related online ads during the 2019 assembly polls, has now also claimed that the Election Commission of India itself authorised government bodies to appoint the social media agency for the Lok Sabha 2019 elections.

In fact, in two days, Gokhale has tweeted about two different social media agencies which worked both for the BJP and the Election Commission of India.

After Gokhale’s tweets last week, the Maharashtra CEO claimed that it was “misleading and incorrect” to suggest that his office had engaged any agency on political considerations. He claimed that the selection was done by the state Directorate General of Information and Public Relations (DGIPR). The DGIPR, he said, “follows rules in force and a laid-down procedure for selecting an appropriate agency for public awareness”.

The CEO had also stated that “an interim reply of facts has been sent to the Election Commission of India (ECI),” in view of the allegations levelled by Gokhale.

Also read: EC Orders Probe Against Maharashtra CEO for Hiring BJP Activist to Handle Its Social Media

In two days, activist tweets about two agencies that were common to ECI and BJP

On Thursday, July 30, Gokhale followed up on the matter saying, “After the nexus between BJP & Electoral Officer Maharashtra, things have gotten quite bigger.” He added through a tweet that “It’s now clear that the Election Commission of India itself authorizsd Modi-govt bodies to appoint its social media agency for the Lok Sabha 2019 Elections.”

Elaborating on the issue, the activist wrote: “In 2019, the @SpokespersonECI appointed an agency called TSD Corporation for handling their social media for the Lok Sabha Elections 2019. The agency was hired by ECI through the govt-run NFDC Ltd. & NOT independently.”

Also read: Who Will Break Down the Election Commission’s Iron Opposition to the RTI?

He then tweeted a screenshot of the official handle of TSD Corporation showing a commendation letter it received from ECI.

Seeking to establish a link between the social media agency and BJP, Gokhale further wrote that TSD Corporations client roster is a whos-who list of BJP and government leaders.

He added that this agency had also handled digital media for several ministers of the Modi government and other BJP leaders.

Agency ECI picked, also handled Modi’s Digital India campaign

“In 2016,” Gokhale said, “TSD Corporation was the official agency which was handed over the entire work for Modi’s “Digital India” campaign.”

In view of this, Gokhale posed a direct query to the ECI spokesperson asking: “Why is @SpokespersonECI & other Electoral Officers in states allowing BJP govts to appoint their agencies?  Why aren’t agencies being appointed independently by ECI? Why is a constitutionally neutral body like ECI working on directions of BJP govts?”

Also read: The Legacy of a Different CEC: When J.M. Lyngdoh Stood up to Modi

Finally, he wrote: “This is just a small instalment of the investigation. There’s more intricate webs tying up the ECI &  BJP which I’ll reveal one-by-one.” He signed off on Thursday while urging the ECI spokesperson to “clarify why they allow BJP govt to appoint their agencies & why isn’t the process done independently?”

ECI picked another agency which had worked for BJP

Gokhale followed up with more tweets linking ECI and BJP to another social media agency. This afternoon, Gokhale tweeted more “revelation on ECI – BJP/Modi govt nexus.”

This time, he wrote about, how ADG Online was appointed both by ECI and CEO Delhi.

Gokhale further commented through subsequent tweets that, “ADG Online has long been the agency of Modi govt for several ministries such as Ministry of Defence, National e-governance Division, etc. In 2016, they were also empanelled by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) which handles all online services for Modi govt. ministries”

‘ECI consulted ADG Online on data breach’

He added that, according to ADG Online founder Deepa Sayal’s book, the agency even consulted the Election Commission of India on formulating policies on “data breach concerns like Cambridge Analytica”.

Gokhale wrote that it was “ironic that a company working with the ruling party BJP was consulted for this.”

Also read: EC Hands out Fourth ‘Clean Chit’ to Modi, but Uploads No Details on Website

‘Agency engaged by ECI also handled Yogi’s events’

Gokhale further tweeted about ADG Online’s links to with UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath: “Incidentally, the BJP connection doesn’t end with the Modi govt. ADG Online is also the agency appointed for UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s branding. They also handled the “Dipotsav” last year where 5 lakh lamps were lit in Ayodhya by the Yogi Govt.”

And, he added, “after their ‘success’ with the Lok Sabha elections & various Modi govt ministries, ADG Online founder has revealed that her company will ‘work on state elections for a major national party’.”

Why is ECI hiring agencies that handle BJP accounts?

Stating that, “this is how deeply BJP proxies have infiltrated the Election Commission of India”, Gokhale asked, “Why is the ECI hiring agencies that handle BJP accounts & election campaigning?” He also demanded to know, “Where is the proof that no data is being leaked?”

And then tagging the ECI spokesperson, he asked: “Will @SpokespersonECI answer?”