New Delhi: Days after an investigation by Scroll.in found evidence of the Central government’s think-tank, NITI Aayog, calling on bureaucrats through an email to provide the Prime Minister’s Office with information about destinations Narendra Modi would be visiting on the campaign trail, a Hindustan Times report has found the commerce ministry guilty of a similar offence.
An email, sent by Aastha Grover, senior investment analyst, to 130 officials of the ministry – including the Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) – sought inputs on the government’s initiatives such as Invest India and Startup India.
The May 10 report quoted anonymous senior government officials to highlight that the email was sent by Grover on March 28 – 12 days before the BJP launched its manifesto for the 2019 elections. The email reportedly said, “Please elaborate on your respective points for the Startup India vision document…. This has to go in the election manifesto.’’
Days later, when the BJP manifesto was launched, it included “matching paragraphs” with the Vision 2024 document.
Seeking the assistance of government officials in an election campaign is prohibited under section 123 (7) the Representation of People Act, 1951 and the concerned candidate/s would be considered guilty of “corrupt practices” and disqualified.
Back in June 1975, violation of the Act for a similar offence led the Allahabad high court to debar the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from contesting elections for six years and holding any public office, which led her to impose the Emergency.
In her case, it was alleged that she had appointed a government official as her campaign organiser and also asked the local officials and police to arrange her campaign meetings.
Interestingly, the HT report said that soon after Grover sent out the email, “a verbal direction to delete the emails” was given to those who received it “realising that it was a potential violation of the Model Code of Conduct.”
In response to the HT’s query about the mail, a ministry spokesperson said: “Nothing is clear regarding the context of the mail and the requirement”, adding that it had been forwarded to the DPIIT secretary’s office “for clarification”, which never came.
As per section 124(7) of the Act, it is considered “corrupt practice” if any candidate or his/her agent, or any other person acting with the candidate’s consent, attempts to obtain any assistance for the “furtherance of the prospects of that candidate’s election from any person in the service of the Government” including gazetted officers, stipendiary judges and magistrates, members of the armed forces of the Union, and members of the police forces, excise officers, revenue officers among others.