Bulk WhatsApp messages with PM letter MCC violation, says Congress

Several people in India and abroad have received WhatsApp messages from ‘Viksit Bharat Sampark’ accounts. Congress says that the letter flouts prohibitions on using government mass media to publicise its schemes during an election period 

March 18, 2024 10:17 pm | Updated March 19, 2024 04:08 pm IST - New Delhi

A file photo of Manish Tewari.

A file photo of Manish Tewari. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Several people in India — and some abroad — have received messages over the weekend through Monday from “Viksit Bharat Sampark,” a series of verified WhatsApp Business accounts with different phone numbers, with a letter from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The letter from Mr. Modi lists several government schemes, sought ideas and suggestions from the public, and thanked them for their “support” on issues like “GST, 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”.

People have resorted to blocking the number, or even reporting it as ‘spam’ on WhatsApp, Vaishnavi Mishra, 24, said, “I received it on Saturday, late at night and immediately blocked it think it was a spam from the party, only later did it come to my knowledge that the message was sent through the IT Ministry.”

Congress MP Manish Tewari accused the government of breaching the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), which prohibits the “misuse of official mass media during the election period for... publicity regarding achievements” to boost the chances of the party in power in polls. The MCC kicked in with the announcement of polling dates on Saturday. The Election Commission of India declined to comment on the matter, and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology did not respond to a request for comment.

Sources told The Hindu that Viksit Bharat Sampark was initially envisaged as a programme to gain feedback on public sector schemes, spearheaded by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances and the IT Ministry. However, the scheme has been moved from the DARPG to the IT Ministry recently, and it is unclear how the programme pivoted to spearheading a large-scale outreach by the Prime Minister months before the election.

It is unclear how Viksit Bharat Sampark obtained so many phone numbers to send these messages; some users on X, formerly Twitter, complained that they never signed up to receive messages from Viksit Bharat Sampark.

“The timing of the message is very unsettling, the general elections were just announced, and the BJP has used the IT Ministry to amplify its achievements, if this is not a breach of data privacy, then what is?” a 28-year-old working in the IT sector said on the condition of anonymity.

A source close to Meta Inc., which runs WhatsApp, said that user reports complaining about unsolicited messages would be considered with “no compromise,” and that the company was not distributing messages from even government-run accounts like Viksit Bharat Sampark for free. A tariff sheet published by the company shows that WhatsApp Business advertisement messages can cost anywhere from ₹0.29 to ₹0.72 per user, depending on factors such as whether users respond to these messages within a certain period. WhatsApp did not provide responses to a questionnaire by The Hindu.

Some have already received messages from the number to verify their contacts and have also received them in various regional languages.

Several people who are not in the country or are foreign nationals have received the message. “The misuse of state institutions to communicate with citizens on behalf of the Prime Minister is appalling to me,” Rohan Chopra, 22, an Indian student in the U.K. said. “It is as if the Prime Minister has become the centre-piece of attention from both the government and the state. Such a personality cult is harming India’s parliamentary democracy.”

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.