On December 25, 2021, coinciding with the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajypayee, the Bharatiya Janata Party launched a special micro-donation campaign through Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'NaMo' app. The campaign sought donations for the party ranging from Rs 5 to Rs 1,000, from BJP party workers and the general public. Interestingly, the campaign also sought funds for the party in the name of 'Swachh Bharat’ and ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme’, both of which are names of flagship schemes of the PM Modi-led Union government. But can a political party raise funds using the the names of government schemes? This question prompted Aravindakshan, editor of Sathiyam TV, a Tamil Nadu based news channel, to turn his attention towards the BJP's micro-donation campaign.
Minutes after the launch of the campaign, PM Modi donated Rs 1,000 towards the party and tweeted a copy of the donation receipt with an appeal to make BJP stronger. “Our ideal of always putting nation first and the culture of lifelong selfless service by our cadre will be further strengthened by your micro donation. Help make BJP strong. Help make India strong," he said. Since then, many BJP units across the country and party leaders including Union ministers and state ministers have taken to various social media platforms seeking micro donations from the party workers and the public.
"When I saw the Prime Minister’s tweet on the micro-donation campaign, I noticed that in one of the replies, a donor had posted two receipts,” Aravindakshan tells TNM, “On one receipt, the cause for donation was mentioned as ‘party fund’ and in another, the cause was mentioned as 'Swachh Bharat'. Both the receipts were identical. I had a doubt whether the party can collect funds in the name of government schemes. I downloaded the 'NaMo' app and donated money for 'Swachh Bharat', 'Beti Bachao Beti Padhao', 'Kisan Seva' and other causes. Later, I decided to file RTIs with the concerned ministries.”
An RTI application with 16 questions was sent to the Prime Minister’s office by Aravindakshan, seeking details regarding the ‘NaMo App’, and whether the app has obtained permission to collect funds for the BJP and other government schemes. On January 27, 2022, the Prime Minister's Office responded to the RTI application saying “information sought is not part of record held by this office.”
Similarly, another RTI application was sent to the Ministry of Women and Child Development asking if NGOs or individuals are allowed to raise funds for ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme’, and if any special permission was given to ‘NaMo App’ to raise funds for the scheme. On February 21, 2022, the Ministry of Women and Child Development (Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Section) sent a categorical reply to the questions raised by Aravindakshan. “There is no such provision to give special permission to raise funds through the NaMo app for Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme," the response said.
The response to a similar RTI application filed with the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the department which implements the ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’, was that "there is no provision in SBM(G) Phase-II guidelines regarding raising of funds by NGO or Individual for Swachh Bharat Projects.”
The responses given by the PMO and other ministries to the RTIs filed by Aravindakshan have raised several questions. For how long has the ‘NaMo' app been raising funds for the party using the name of the Union Government’s flagship schemes? Is the money, which was collected in the name of government schemes, transferred to the government? Furthermore, the home page of BJP’s official website (bjp.org) says, “Make a donation towards new India’s creation! Donate Now,” and once a user clicks on it, he/she is directed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s website (narendramodi.in/donation/).
"This is a scam. I have never heard of such practice by any political party," Aravindakshan alleges. Though the app does not say that these funds are for any other purpose other than for the party, Opposition parties like the Congress have expressed similar concerns too. “This is a clear case of deceiving innocent citizens with a fraudulent intention of raising funds for the party and is punishable under Section 415 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code. BJP, which is the ruling party in the country, cannot misuse its position to gain money collected in the name of government schemes illegally. We urge that the BJP openly declare the amount of money it has collected in the NaMo App in the name of the government schemes since its inception and return the same with suitable interest to the donors with a public apology,” says former IAS officer and coordinator of TNCC’s social media wing, Sasikanth Senthil.
While questions are being raised on BJP’s micro-donation program using names of government schemes, the BJP says that they take up various activities under the banner of Swachh Bharat and Beti Padhao Beti Bachao as they are common names. Speaking to TNM, BJP’s All India Mahila Morcha President and Coimbatore South MLA Vanathi Srinivasan says “Swachh Bharat is a common name, even in my own constituency I have taken up activities under the same of Swachh Bharat. So it is a party initiative and through this funding the party can take up any kind of water body work. Namami Gange (National Mission for Clean Ganga) is a central government scheme, but we will use this name to undertake clean up the local water bodies in our area. Swachh Bharat is a common name under which the party is taking up various activities. Similarly, we create awareness about the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme and to involve ourselves in the scheme we use these funds.”
When pointed out the Women and Child Development Ministry’s response that NaMo App has not been given permission to raise funds in the name of the Government scheme, Vanathi Srinivasan says, “Yes it is true, no individual can collect funds in the name of a government program. But these are all common names.”
When asked if the BJP will have a problem if other political parties like Congress, DMK and CPI start collecting funds in the name of Government flagship schemes, the BJP Coimbatore south MLA says “No, let them do that. If they are taking up PM’s flagship schemes under the banner of NGO or any trust, it is well and good. We welcome it. Ultimately, the PM is asking that this has to be converted into a people’s movement.”
Anti-corruption activists are none too pleased with the semantics and have demanded a probe into this matter. Speaking to TNM, Jayaram Venkateshan, convener of Arappor Iyakkam says, “No party or individual can raise funds in the name of government schemes. There should be an investigation into this and an FIR should be registered and this matter should be probed further. It also needs to be investigated whether BJP has actually credited the money raised in the name of schemes in the government treasury.”
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