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BJP allegedly accessed voter Aadhaar details for targeted campaigning

The Madras High-Court directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to respond to an allegation that the Puducherry unit of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)  misused voters’ Aadhaar details for electioneering. The order was issued in response to a public interest litigation petition filed by A. Anand, President of the Puducherry State Committee of the Democratic Youth Federation of India.

In his affidavit, Anand claims that Puducherry citizens, including him, received messages on their mobile phones with invitation links to join booth-level WhatsApp groups created by BJP. Anand alleges that the messages were only sent to the Aadhaar-linked mobile number of the particular person and not to any other numbers belonging to the same person. He also cites that those who did not link their numbers with Aadhaar did not get any such message. Anand provided screenshots of some of these messages.

There are 30 assembly constituencies in the Union Territory and each one consists of about 30-35 polling booths, resulting in around 950 WhatsApp groups, the affidavit stated. When Anand asked the group admin about how he got these numbers, the admin told him to contact the BJP Puducherry party office, it said.

This news comes only a week after ECI claimed that there is a tight “air gap” between the electoral roll system and the Aadhaar ecosystem. Many of the concerns raised in Anand’s complaint were raised early on when the government first proposed linking Aadhaar to voter IDs, but the government downplayed the issues at the time. This new allegation comes at a time when Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Puducherry are only a few days away from the Assembly Elections 2021.

In response to ECI’s submission that it forwarded the complaint to the cyber-crime cell, the High-Court Bench said: “It will not do for the Election Commission to pass the buck in this case and say cybercrime division is conducting an investigation. When the Commission is up and about in all other matters and asserts its primacy and authority, it has to look into this allegation with the degree of seriousness that it deserves.”

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The Madras HC has given ECI until Friday to submit its report.

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