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Lok Sabha elections 2019: Did Central ministries give inputs for BJP poll manifesto?

This could potentially have been a violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) which has been in effect since March 10 when the Lok Sabha election schedule was announced.

lok sabha elections Updated: May 10, 2019 08:40 IST
Anisha Dutta
Anisha Dutta
New Delhi
central government,ministries,BJP
Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah release BJP's manifesto for the upcoming general elections, at BJP headquarters, in New Delhi(Arvind Yadav/HT PHOTO)

Central government ministries and departments may have provided inputs for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto for the ongoing Lok Sabha election, senior government officials who asked not to be identified said.

This could potentially have been a violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) which has been in effect since March 10 when the Lok Sabha election schedule was announced.

The code of conduct states that “ministers shall not combine their official visit with electioneering work and shall not also make use of official machinery or personnel during the electioneering work”.

Hindustan Times has reviewed a copy of an email sent to various departments under the ministry of commerce, including the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), seeking inputs from the so-called Vision 2024 document on initiatives such as Start-up India and Invest India that offer incentives to young entrepreneurs and promote the start-up ecosystem.

Hindustan Times has also reviewed a copy of the Vision 2024 document and found matching paragraphs in the BJP’s manifesto, although, to be sure, this could be a coincidence.

The email was dated March 28, days before the BJP election manifesto was released on April 8 and18 days after the elections were announced, bringing the MCC into force immediately.

It was addressed to 130 members of Invest India: “Please elaborate on your respective points for the Startup India vision document.... This has to go in the election manifesto.’’

It was signed by ``Aastha Grover, senior investment specialist.” Hindustan Times has learnt that soon after this email went out, DPIITofficials sent a verbal direction to delete the emails realizing that it was a potential violation of the Model Code of Conduct.

A spokesperson for thecommerce ministry said: “Nothing is clear regarding the context of the mail and the requirement.” The spokesperson added that a query from HT seeking a detailed response had been forwarded to DPIIT secretary’s office “for clarification.” The query had remained unanswered as of press time.

The Election Commission’s spokesperson didn’t respond to queries. Nor did Grover, who sent the email in question.

According to the start-up Vision 2024 document, a copy of which has been reviewed by HT, Start-up India envisions achieving the following in the next five years starting from June 2019: facilitate establishment of 50,000 new start-ups in the nation by 2024, creating two million direct and indirect jobs, and set up 500 new incubators and accelerators by 2024.

“Support setting up of more than 500 new incubators and accelerators across the country. Out of this, 30% of the incubators will be supported by different government departments..,” the document states, mentioning NITI Aayog, the government think tank, the ministry of human resource development and the ministry of electronics and information technology, among others.

The vision document also proposes to create 100 innovation zones in urban local bodies. “These Innovation Zones (IZ) will help encourage and adopt local innovations for improving the quality of life of citizens and address problems in the fields of sanitation, health, waste and water-management,” it states.

The BJP’s manifesto states that the party will launch a new scheme to provide collateral-free credit up to ₹ 50 lakh for entrepreneurs. India is now among the largest start-up ecosystems of the world, the manifesto states adding,” we will further strengthen this ecosystem by…facilitating establishment of 50,000 new start-ups in the nation by 2024, creating 100 innovation zones in urban local bodies, setting up 500 new incubators and accelerators by 2024.”

Such sharing of information isn’t on, a former Election Commission official said.

“It is evident that it violates chapter seven of the Model Code of Conduct which puts restrictions on using government machinery including ministries. Even usage of government vehicles is not allowed and have to be given up. This is done to take away incumbency advantage,” former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi said.

Section 123(7) in The Representation of the People Act, 1951 deems it a “corrupt practice” if any candidate or their agent – or anyone acting with the candidate’s consent – to obtain any assistance “in furtherance of the prospects of that candidate’s election from any person in the service of the Government” including gazetted officers, stipendiary judges and magistrates, members of the armed forces of the Union, and members of the police forces among others.

Senior Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said the party plans to approach the poll body with this information.

“The PM, party president and ruling party are habitual offenders and have always treated the party and the government as alter egos. This is reprehensible and inexcusable. It is a blatant misuse of government machinery. We had challenged (Prime Minister Narendra)Modi and the BJP two weeks ago on an identical malpractice whereby Niti Aayog employees were writing inputs for Modi’s political campaign. Although the moment Modi’s name comes, there appears to be a very quick clean chit by the EC. This must be stopped immediately and we will do a vigorous challenge to the same,” he said.

First Published: May 10, 2019 07:05 IST

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