Maharashtra Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Baldev Singh on Friday denied allegations of appointing an agency associated with the BJP for publicity work before the Assembly election last year, even as the Congress asked the Election Commission (EC) to probe the charge.
Singh told the EC on Friday that his office neither has any “direct or indirect connection” with Devang Dave, national convenor of IT and social media of BJP’s youth wing, nor has Dave’s agency been awarded any work by the CEO or the Directorate General of Information and Public Relations (DGIPR).
RTI activist Saket Gokhale had alleged on Twitter on Thursday that the Maharashtra CEO “hired the BJP IT Cell for handling their social media” before the election. Gokhale had said that the government-empanelled agency Signpost India employed by the CEO shared its registered address with another agency that was owned by Dave.
Regarding Signpost India, the CEO informed the EC that the agency was “appointed by DGIPR following due process” only for voter awareness and sensitisation. Singh said that his office approached DGIPR for finding an agency since a 2017 resolution by the Maharashtra government had tasked DGIPR to engage all advertising agencies on behalf of the government and its departments.
Asked why the CEO followed a state government resolution meant for its departments, an EC officer clarified, “Since the job at hand is only of publicity, it’s standard practice for a state CEO to approach the state’s information and public relations department since they already have empanelled agencies for this purpose. It’s faster this way.”
On Friday, the Congress took off from where Gokhale left, and alleged that Dave’s agency was working for the Maharashtra CEO. Senior party leader and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said that the “voter databases and demographics was made available to the BJP through the social media agency”.
Singh denied the charge and reiterated that neither his office nor DGIPR had hired Dave’s Social Central Media Solutions, and even Signpost India’s job was limited to voter outreach and that there was no exchange of voter data.
Chavan said Dave’s social media firm had shown the Maharashtra CEO as a “client” on its website, http://www.socialcentral.in. The agency also services the BJP’s social media campaign in the state.
“This is clear evidence to establish that the CEO Maharashtra’s social media account was being run by a BJP sponsored firm owned by BJP’s office-bearer Devang Dave. Dave also operates social media pages like Fearless Indian, I support Narendra Modi, which are propaganda pages on behalf of the BJP. The website also claims that Dave is a member of the IT board of Maharashtra government. It is not clear when and how the government of Maharashtra appointed Devang on the post,” said Chavan, who wrote to the EC demanding an inquiry. The EC has sought further comments from the CEO on Chavan’s letter.
On records, the DGIPR, which functions under the state’s General Administration Department (GAD), had awarded the CEO’s social media publicity contract to Signpost India in 2018 after a tendering process in which advertising agencies empanelled with the state government were permitted to participate. In 2018, the GAD was headed by the then Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
On records, Dave and his Social Central are not directly linked to Signpost India. None of the four directors of the advertising agency has any role in Social Central. However, Dave appeared to concede a link on Friday.
“We do not earn out bread and butter by doing any kind of ‘dalali’ but by hard work. The work assigned by the EC to Signpost India was after following due process. There is no illegality. Is it forbidden for political activists to make an honest living?” he asked, denying Chavan’s allegations. “The ECI and the industry also appreciated the work done. Am I not allowed professional engagements just because I support an ideology that some people do not agree with?” he said.
“I come from a lower middle class background and whatever position I’m in today is because of my hard work and merit, without any political or financial backing. My advice to such people: don’t waste our time,” Dave said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines