According to Facebook’s weekly ad library report, a pro-Bharatiya Facebook page called My First Vote For Modi has incurred the maximum expenditure on political ads in week starting March 17. It spent Rs 46.6 lakh during that period.

The total expenditure during this period by all pages sponsoring ads related to politics or issues of national importance to India was a little over Rs 1.5 crore. Out this, the top 20 pages alone spent more than Rs 1.1 crore. Coming in second to My First Vote For Modi was pro-YSR Congress ads by the political advocacy group Indian Political Action Committee (Rs 17.52 lakh), followed by the page dedicated to BJP’s election campaign Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat (Rs 9.68 lakh).

Offering freebies

Facebook’s ad library data allows users to examine the nature of political ads sponsored by a certain page. Alt News found that My First Vote For Modi, developed three months before the elections, is luring voters with “attractive goodies” if they pledge to vote for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The range of goodies offered by the page includes badges, bags, T-shirts, phone covers and caps. “Pledge your first vote for PM Modi for the better India and win exciting goodies,” read the ads.

All of these products are available for sale on Narendra Modi’s official website Modi.

In fact, Prime Minister Modi himself advertised some of the same products from his Twitter handle.

Another pro-BJP page that also offers ‘goodies’ to voters against a pledge to vote for Modi is Nation with NaMo.

Nation with NaMo and My First Vote For Modi are a part of the same brand, as evident from the collage above. The ad carries the logo of My First Vote For Modi.

Violation of election laws?

As an earlier report brought to light the fact that the address mentioned by both Nation with NaMo and My First Vote For Modi as part of advertiser details, matched the address of the BJP’s Delhi headquarters.

The BJP, however, is yet to declare direct links with these pages. This begs the question of who funds them, since the combined investment by both the pages since February 2019 stands at nearly Rs 1.8 crore.

But a matter of bigger concern is the veiled bribing of voters. Both the pages offer “attractive prizes” and “goodies” in the form of NaMo merchandise to anyone pledging to vote for Modi.

“Under the Representation of the People Act, you are not supposed to influence voters with any offers,” said former Chief of Election Commission TS Krishnamurthy. “It must be examined under the Act whether the voters are being influenced by undue influencers.”

These unresolved questions can only be answered via an enquiry by the Election Commission of India.

1. Is the BJP or people associated with the party pumping money into proxy Facebook pages that influence voters by luring them with freebies?

2. Is the Election Commission aware of the practice?

3. Has the EC looked into the source of investment of these pages and whether the same is a part of BJP’s declared election expenditure?

This article first appeared on Alt News.