“Election Commission of India literally hired the BJP IT Cell for handling their social media in Maharashtra in the run-up to the 2019 State Assembly Elections,” posted journalist-activist Saket Gokhale.
Election Commission of India literally hired the BJP IT Cell for handling their social media in Maharashtra in the run-up to the 2019 State Assembly Elections.
— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) July 23, 2020
Gokhale, well known to social media user as an activist, then went on to share the details of how he tracked the link between the election commission’s official Mumbai voter awareness campaign and a Mumbai based digital advertising, marketing, social media agency called Social Central. Gokhale tracked the digital footprints of the agency to discover that it was owned by one Devang Dave, who is the national convener of IT & social media for BJP’s Youth Wing BJYM.
“Guess who shows up on his client list on his website,” asked Gokhale and posted all his findings on Social media. This created a sensation, and prompted a reaction from Election Commission of India spokesperson Sheyphali Sharan, who posted, “Regarding tweet of Mr Gokhale @SaketGokhale, Commission has sought detailed factual report in this matter from CEO Maharashtra with respect to alleged locale of the incidence immediately.”
Regarding tweet of Mr Gokhale @SaketGokhale, Commission has sought detailed factual report in this matter from CEO Maharashtra with respect to alleged locale of the incidence immediately.
— Sheyphali Sharan (@SpokespersonECI) July 23, 2020
As expected the CEO Maharashtra called Gokhale’s revelations “misleading and incorrect to suggest that the office of chief electoral officer has engaged any agency on political considerations.” It added that the electoral awareness campaign was “launched through an agency engaged by the information and public relations department(DGIPR), Government of Maharashtra.”
As per standard practice, electoral awareness campaign is launched through an agency engaged by the information and public relations department(DGIPR), Government of Maharashtra.
— ChiefElectoralOffice (@CEO_Maharashtra) July 24, 2020
Nevertheless the Election Commission has sought a report from Maharashtra’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) on the matter. Gokhale has put in public domain how he tracked the links between the Maharashtra CEO’s social media ads encouraging people to vote in the 2019 elections, and found that advertiser’s address was “202 Pressman House” in Vile Parle East, Mumbai. According to a report in The Hindu, the registrar of companies lists Signpost India Private Limited at this address, and another firm, named Social Central Media Solutions LLP (based at 70A, 601 Pressman House,) describes itself as “Signpost India Company” on its website, and listed the Maharashtra CEO among its clients.
Social Central’s managing director Devang Virendra Dave, was also listed as “Incharge” of “National Social Media and IT” on the website of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha. The Hindu reported that Social Central’s website carries a testimonial attributed to Shirish Mohod, deputy CEO during last year’s Assembly polls, that says, “I want to appreciate Social Central Media Solutions to all your creative inputs and effective implementation of the digital campaign which has helped us in our endeavour of reaching out to non-registered voters of our state.”
While trying to clear his stand, Devang Dave too posted a tweet that instead seems to link him to the CEO-sponsored campaign, “We do not earn our bread and butter by doing any kind of ‘Dalali’ but by Hardwork. The work assigned by Election Commission to Signpost was after following due process. There is no illegality whatsoever. Is it also forbidden for political activists to make an honest living?” he posted, adding, “ECI and the Industry has also appreciated the work done Am I Not allowed professional engagements just because I support an ideology, a certain people doesn’t agree with? Or is targeting people based on their ideological leanings the new thing to vent out frustration? (2/4)”
We do not earn our bread and butter by doing any kind of “Dalali” but by Hardwork
The work assigned by Election Commission to Signpost was after following due process.There is no illegality whatsoever.
Is it also forbidden for political activists to make an honest living? (1/4)
— Devang Dave (@DevangVDave) July 24, 2020
He went on to attack Gokhale without naming him and said, “(SIC) this are same people who were against CAA. This are same people who are against Ram Mandir. This are same people who are against Idea Of Bharat!”
Even as he constituted to share the links, Gokhale stated, “It is beyond SHOCKING that the Election Commission chose a BJP IT cell guy & his agency to handle their social media for Maharashtra elections. ECI is supposed to be monitoring social media of parties during election. Here, they *literally* worked with the ruling party.”
The Hindu reporter asked the ECI spokesman about the rules for hiring private firms, and was told that “the selection was done by the CEOs and that the Election Commission in Delhi was not involved.” The newspaper sought a reply from Baldev Singh, the current CEO, who sent a WhatsApp message stating, “It is misleading and incorrect to suggest that the office of chief electoral officer has issued any advertisement through any agency on political considerations. As per standard practice, electoral awareness campaign is launched through the information and public relations department (DGIPR), Government of Maharashtra. They, in turn, follow a laid-down procedure for selecting an appropriate agency for public awareness and not by CEO Office.”
He added, “For the specific imputation made in the tweet of Mr Saket Gokhale, an interim reply of facts has been sent to Election Commission of India. Meanwhile, some other representations on the matter have been received from some public representatives, which are also being addressed and a detailed response in this regard shall be sent to the commission soon.”
Gokhale, has called it “This was electoral fraud” adding that it is more than a political hold over ECI’s social media, and alleged that “crucial voter data might have been transferred from ECI to the BJP.”
Every effort is being made by Modi govt to stall the investigation of the ECI & bury it.
And this is because it wasn’t just BJP handling ECI’s social media – it’s because crucial voter data might have been transferred from ECI to the BJP.
This was electoral fraud.
— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) July 25, 2020
He stated that he has more to reveal on what he has termed a “nexus between the BJP/Modi govt & the Election Commission which gets bigger & goes beyond Maharashtra.?”
This of course has made him the target of trolls affiliated with the right wing. Some allegedly even reached Gokhale’s building, chanting “jai Shree Ram’ , and allegedly threatening the family.
RSS WORKERS ARE OUTSIDE MY HOUSE CHANTING JAI SHRI RAM.
THEY JUST THREATENED MY MOTHER.
— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) July 24, 2020
Gokhale complained to the local police, and an FIR was registered and security provided.