Those contesting the BMC elections can use the social media and messaging applications such as WhatsApp without any restriction, the state election commission (SEC) said on Wednesday. The cost incurred for the use, however, will have to be shown in the election expenditure, which has a cap of Rs5 lakh for each candidate in Mumbai.
The SEC held it would not be possible for the authorities to keep a watch on the use or misuse of social media and apps. With no restrictions on the use, the commission has attempted to give a level-playing field to all candidates.
“There is no restriction on the use of social media and applications, but candidates will have to reveal the cost, if any, incurred for their use. They will have to put on record the money spent on appointment of an agency to create professional advertisements or send out text messages to the voters,” said Shekhar Channe, secretary, state election commission.
Sources from the commission said candidates could easily use or misuse the social media, without spending much.
“There are agencies that help amplify messages, which are in the interest of their clients. Similarly, ‘influencers’ can play a major role in helping their candidates. Professional bloggers, who work for political parties or their local units, can indirectly favour their clients. It is very difficult for the authorities to catch hold of them in case of misuse. In case of complaints, the commission can only direct them to the police authorities for further investigations,” said an official privy to the use of social media in elections.
The SEC has capped the election expenditure per candidate to Rs5 lakh for bigger municipal corporations like Mumbai and between Rs3 lakh and Rs4 lakh for smaller corporations and district councils.
State election commissioner JS Saharia said the expenditure includes the cost incurred by the candidate, his relatives, friends and by his party in his constituency.
However, there is no limit to the expenditure by political parties.
Saharia said to curb the use of illicit liquor and unaccounted money to woo voters, the commission has roped in various departments, including income tax, excise, forest and various banks, in the process.