Several Indian expatriates and even foreigners living in the United Arab Emirates received a WhatsApp message over the weekend that carried a letter from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought feedback and suggestions on initiatives of the Indian government, Dubai-based newspaper Khaleej Times reported on Monday.

Many Indians have also received the message sent from a verified business account on WhatsApp called “Viksit Bharat Sampark”.

Opposition parties have claimed that the message amounted to a violation of the Model Code of Conduct which came into effect after the Election Commission announced dates for the Lok Sabha polls on Saturday. Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien filed a complaint against Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Election Commission of India for allegedly violating the code.

The chief election commissioner in Haryana’s capital Chandigarh, upon receiving a complaint of the Model Code of Conduct violation, has referred the matter to the Election Commission for appropriate action, The Times of India reported on Tuesday.

What did the message say?

The message stated that it had been sent by the government of India “under the leadership of Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji”. It added that feedback and suggestions from beneficiaries of schemes launched by the Modi government were “important to fulfill the aspirations of a Viksit Bharat” or developed India.

The message was accompanied by a letter from the prime minister listing several government schemes, and seeking ideas and suggestions from the public. It also thanked them for their “support” on issues like “GST [Goods and Services Tax], abrogation of Article 370, new law on triple talaq, Nari Shakti Vandan Act to enhance women’s participation in the Parliament, the inauguration of a new Parliament building and strong steps against terrorism and Left-Wing extremism”.

Screenshot of the message sent from the Viksit Bharat Sampark account.

Who sent the message?

The Viksit Bharat Sampark business account on WhatsApp carries a display picture of Modi and is linked to the phone number 9275-536-913. The +91 country code preceding the number shows that it is registered in India.

The bio section of the account says: “Viksit Bharat Sampark is an ongoing initiative of the Government of India for evaluation of the flagship schemes and improvement of its implementation and delivery.”

The account also describes itself as a “public and government service” and mentions the address and the website of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in its bio.

Screenshot of the bio section of the Viksit Bharat Sampark account.

Truecaller, an app that identifies caller IDs shows that the number 9275-536-913 is part of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited’s network in Haryana. Till Tuesday morning, the number had been reported as spam 212 times in the last 60 days, Truecaller showed.

Screenshot from the Truecaller app showing details of the phone number.

An election official in Chandigarh told The Times of India that the district media certification and monitoring committee found prima facie evidence of a violation.

“It appears that a government department used social media, specifically WhatsApp, to showcase governmental achievements post-election declaration,” this person said.

Criticism from Opposition

On Monday, Trinamool Congress MP O'Brien filed a complaint on the matter with the Election Commission alleging that the prime minister had violated the Model Code of Conduct since the the message stated that it had been sent by the government “under the leadership” of Modi, The Indian Express reported.

In a letter to the commission, O'Brien alleged that Modi had violated Chapter 6 of the Model Code of Conduct that deals with publication of advertisements at the cost of public exchequer.

“By using the office of the prime minister, the BJP has issued the aforesaid letter at the cost of the public exchequer under the guise of a message seemingly sent by the government of India,” O’Brien wrote in his letter, according to The Indian Express.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor posted on X, a screenshot of a LinkedIn post from a Pakistani, living in UAE, who claimed to have received the message on WhatsApp. In the comment section of the LinkedIn post, several other foreigners also said they had received the message.

In his post on X, Tharoor wrote: “Will the Election Commission take note of such a blatant misuse of government machinery and government data to serve the partisan political interests of the ruling party?”

Another Congress MP Manish Tewari tweeted saying that he received the message in the early hours of Monday. “Is this not a blatant violation of the both Model Code of Conduct & Right to Privacy?” Tewari wrote on X. “Where did @GoI_MeitY [Ministry of Electronics and IT get my mobile number from ? Which database are they unauthorisedly accessing?”

Several other social media users have expressed similar concerns about the message sent on their phones.