Can the PMO Use Government Machinery To Collect Donations for BJP?

Poonam Agarwal
·5-min read

Is the Prime Minister’s Office allegedly using government machinery to collect funds for the BJP? The Quint has found that it would seem so –

Sampark.gov.in - is the official PR ID used for sending mails from the Prime Minister’s Office. It has been been found that at least one lot of emails generated by the PMO's sampark.gov.in ID has allegedly been used to collect funds for the BJP. Use of government machinery to collect funds for a political party is a clear violation of the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct.

On 21 October 2020, the Prime Minister’s Office is alleged to have sent an email blast through ‘no-reply@sampark.gov.in.’ – with the subject “Rajmata was a decisive leader & skilled administrator, says PM; People in rural India get ownership rights of their homes…More in the newsletter!”

When we clicked on this newsletter, we found seven articles on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s progressive work.

So far there was no problem.

In the screenshot below you can see the Prime Minister’s Office’s email address through which the email blast was allegedly sent.

Screenshot of email received from Prime Minister’s Office on 21 October.
Screenshot of email received from Prime Minister’s Office on 21 October.

Violation of Model Code of Conduct

But when we scrolled down to the end of all seven of the articles in the Newsletter, we saw an advertisement saying “Support those who put India first. Support BJP through Micro-donations.”

When we clicked on the advertisement it took us to another page saying, “Your contribution is a great way to express support to the BJP. It will enhance the determination of lakhs of ‘karyakartas’ towards building a New India.” And below this there were options for donations ranging from 5 rupees to 1000 rupees.

So the question is -

How did a BJP fund collection advertisement become part of an official government communication from the PMO?

And a more serious question -

Is this not a clear case of violation of the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct?

In this screenshot below, you can see a BJP advertisement. When we clicked on the link at the end of each of the seven articles, we were taken to a BJP political advertisement.

Screenshot of BJP donation advertisement.
Screenshot of BJP donation advertisement.

Indeed it is, and we will explain how -

The Election Commission announced the Bihar elections on 25 September. From that day the EC’s Model Code of Conduct or MCC, came into force – a Code with clear instructions to political parties on all do’s and donts during an election.

Chapter 7 of the MCC is on ‘Party in Power’ where it clearly says and I quote “Government transport including official aircraft, vehicles, machinery and personnel shall not be used for furtherance of the interest of the party in power.”

Since the sampark.gov.in email was sent by the PMO on 21 Oct 2020, when the Model Code was in effect in Bihar, it is a case of MCC violation.

Speaking to The Quint, former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi said -

"“Prima facie it looks like violation of Model Code of Conduct and I hope Election Commission will take appropriate action”" -

Former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah told The Quint,

"“There are constitutional and legal restrictions on actions of this nature. I would strongly recommend recourse should be taken within the legal framework.”" -

We spoke to a few legal experts as well to check if this amounted to an abuse of the Prime Minister’s Office.

This is what the senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan said to The Quint,

"“It is Constitutionally improper for the Prime Minister of India to use his authority to ask for collections for his party. Effectively it becomes an exercise of Executive Power by the Prime Minister in favour of a political party and it is arbitrary and unreasonable. If every Prime Minister and minister start doing this, the election process itself will be threatened.”" -

In fact, here, lets rewind to June 1975 – when the Allahabad High Court found then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi guilty of misusing government machinery for her 1971 election campaign. The court ruled that Indira Gandhi had committed corrupt practice under Section 123 (7) of the Representation of People Act, 1951.

Why?

Because she took the assistance of a Gazetted Officer in her constituency of Rae Bareilly during the General Elections in 1971. The court barred Mrs Gandhi from holding elected office for six years. This dramatic court ruling was one of the key reasons why Mrs Gandhi imposed the Emergency, which ultimately led to her electoral defeat in 1977.

Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde has pointed out that the PMO’s email will not come under Section 123 (7) of the Representation of People Act, because unlike Indira Gandhi’s case - “here the Prime Minister personally might not be a candidate and hence may not strictly be liable to a consequence in an election tribunal. Nevertheless, he could be subject to some embarrassment if he or his official is summoned.”

But the issue here is larger than a major violation of the EC’s Model Code of Conduct. The bigger question is -

How can the Prime Minister’s Office allegedly make use of government machinery to collect funds for the ruling political party, in this case, the BJP?

Is it not unethical?

We have written to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Election Commission of India seeking an explanation. We will update this article as and when we get their responses.

. Read more on India by The Quint.Sunday View: The Best Weekend Opinion Reads, Curated Just For YouCan the PMO Use Government Machinery To Collect Donations for BJP? . Read more on India by The Quint.