EC seeks Maharashtra CEO report after activist claims firm with 'BJP link' hired ahead of 2019 Assembly polls
Sachin Gokhale alleged that the government-empanelled agency employed by the Maharashtra CEO shared its registered address with an ad agency that was owned by the national convenor of BJP IT cell.
The Election Commission has ordered an inquiry into the allegations that a digital advertising agency linked to the BJP's IT cell was hired by the Maharashtra poll panel ahead of the 2019 Assembly elections.
Saket Gokhale, a journalist-turned-activist, alleged on Twitter that the firm Social Central, hired for for social media purposes, had direct links with the BJP.
Maharashtra, at the time, was ruled by the saffron party.
EC spokesperson Sheyphali Sharan, responding to Gokhale's tweet, said the poll panel has sought a detailed report from the Maharashtra CEO: "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 incident immediately."
Gokhale, in a series of tweets, had claimed that the government-empanelled agency employed by the Maharashtra CEO shared its registered address '202 Pressman House, Vile Parle, Mumbai' with an ad agency owned by Devang Dave, national convenor of IT and social media for BJP's youth wing.
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
The activist claimed that the address '202 Pressman House, Vile Parle, Mumbai' on the social media advertisements put out by the Maharashtra Election Commission belonged to Signpost India, which was an empanelled agency under the erstwhile Devendra Fadnavis government.
Browsing through the old social media adverts of the Chief Electoral Officer, Maharashtra, something very strange stood out. The Chief Electoral Officer reports to the ECI.
In each of the ads, the address seemed to be the same:
"202 Pressman House, Vile Parle, Mumbai"
— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) July 23, 2020
As per records, the Directorate General of Information and Public Relations (DGIPR) had appointed Signpost India Private Limited for social media publicity work of Election Commission of India, Maharashtra, in 2018.
Gokhale further claimed that that Dave was also a founder of pages such as 'The Fearless Indian' and 'I Support Narendra Modi' on Facebook.
"The above pages are full hateful content of BJP IT Cell," Gokhale claimed.
Maharashtra CEO Baldev Harpal Singh, who has held the office since June last year, told The Print a detailed report has been sought of the facts".
The Indian Express quoted Dave as saying, "Baseless allegations are being raised against me to suit the political narrative of Opposition parties. I'm being targeted as I come from a middle class background with no political legacy. My legal team is going through the accusations and will reply soon."
Congress leaders have also demanded an inquiry into the matter.
Former chief minister and senior Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan said in a press conference on Friday: "The appointment of a BJP office-bearer clearly indicates the CEO office failed in its duty. I have requested the chief election commissioner of India to conduct an inquiry into it."
Reacting to the incident, Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant also demanded an investigation.
"We demand an inquiry into this serious issue by an independent Election Commission panel. The EC is supposed to work independently. Here a company of a national office bearer of the BJP youth wing was instrumental in handling social media of CEO Maharashtra. What about EC data? Why was the firm's background not checked?" he asked.
The Maharashtra Assembly elections were held in October 2019.
Gokhale has also accused BJP workers of harassing him and threatening to kill him after he publicly opposed the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the Ram temple in Uttar Pradesh's Ayodhya city on 5 August amid the coronavirus crisis.
Gokhale on Friday moved the Allahabad High Court seeking a restraining order on the bhoomi poojan or ground-breaking ceremony for the Ram temple.
He had argued that around 300 people would gather at a single location and violate the social distancing guidelines to contain the spread of the coronavirus. His petition was dismissed.
Hours after the verdict, Gokhale tweeted a video that showed a group of four to five men walking around his residential complex and chanting Jai Shri Ram. The activist alleged that the men, who'd threatened his mother, were members of the RSS.
With inputs from PTI
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