The Election Commission on Thursday directed the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to stop transmitting WhatsApp messages to citizens carrying a letter from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The poll body said that it had received several complaints saying that the messages were a violation of the Model Code of Conduct that came into effect on March 16 after the schedule for Lok Sabha elections was announced.

The Model Code of Conduct is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission that political parties and governments are mandated to follow while campaigning.

The Centre in its letter to the Election Commission said that the WhatsApp messages were sent out on March 15, a day before the poll code came into force.

“It was informed in that letter that though the letters were sent out before MCC period, but due to system architecture and network limitations it is possible that some letters have a delayed delivery,” the poll body said, citing the Centre’s response.

Many Indians had received the message sent from a verified business account on WhatsApp called “Viksit Bharat Sampark” that carried a letter from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought feedback and suggestions on the initiatives of his government.

Several Indian expatriates and even foreigners living in the United Arab Emirates also received the WhatsApp message.

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 WhatsApp users 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”.

Opposition parties have staunchly maintained that the messages amount to a violation of the Model Code of Conduct. Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien had filed a complaint against Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Election Commission of India for allegedly violating the code.

Congress MP Manish Tewari also claimed to receive the “unsolicited” message. “Where did the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology get my mobile number from?” he questioned. “Which database are they unauthorisedly accessing?”

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.

“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,” says the account’s biodata.

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 biodata.

Also read: Why the Opposition is alleging that a WhatsApp forward from Modi is a poll code violation?