Police officials in Kalaburagi shut down an operation run by the BJP IT cell in which the members of the cell were calling up voters from a room inside a government building in the district.
Election flying squad officials along with police officials arrived at the office space after they received a tip off about the activity happening at the Karnataka State Electronics Development Corporation (KEONICS) IT Park in Kalaburagi on Saturday night. The IT Park was developed by the Karnataka government.
"We found that around 12-13 people had taken up a space inside a big hall and they had voter lists of people voting from northern Karnataka. They also had a list of mobile numbers and they were calling them up. They had not taken prior permission for this," said a police official from Kalaburagi Rural police station.
As per the Model Code of Conduct, government buildings cannot be used without prior permission from the Election Commission, particularly for political purposes.
Police also confirmed that the person accused of organising the call center is Sharan, who is the head of the BJP IT cell in Kalaburagi. Police officials locked down the office and registered a case under section 171 H of the IPC (Illegal payments in connection with an election) against Sharan and other party workers on Sunday. If found guilty, the workers will be fined up to Rs 500 each.
Police have not been able to collect voice data, but suspect that party workers were using the office to call up voters and ask their voting preferences and persuading them to vote for the BJP.
Kalaburagi goes to polls in the third phase of elections on April 23 and nine-time MLA and two-time MP, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge of the Congress is contesting against Umesh Jadhav, who recently joined the BJP.
Mallikarjun's son and Karnataka Social Welfare Minister Priyank Kharge took to social media to highlight the incident and questioned why the government-owned Keonics IT Park building was used for the activity.
. @BJP4Karnataka’s Kalaburagi IT Cell has been running an illegal call center for elections in the Govt owned Keonics building. Premises given on rent has been misused by the firm. A case has been registered by the Administration & locked down the office@ITBTGoK @Gaurav_Gupta67— Priyank Kharge (@PriyankKharge) April 21, 2019
The findings of the police and the Election Commission officials also raises questions about how the BJP IT cell gained access to the list of mobile numbers of voters.
The BJP IT Cell have been calling up voters & seeking their Voter ID details & voting preferences which is a clear breach of privacy. How do they access to all the numbers of the voters? Are the TelCos being forced to share their databases with BJP?— Priyank Kharge (@PriyankKharge) April 21, 2019
The BJP IT cell is known to target messages to voters via WhatsApp. In the run-up to the 2018 Karnataka Assembly elections, the IT cell had created a network of over 40,000 WhatsApp groups at booth levels across the state.
The BJP IT cell in Karnataka also set up call centers in 2018 before the Assembly elections.