In April 2023, Alt News published a report that revealed how a network of 23 websites and their associated Facebook pages – all hosted on the same IP address – was running BJP propaganda on Facebook targeting Opposition parties and leaders. The pages spent crores of rupees to publish advertisements. A detailed investigation by Alt News showed that the network was directly related to the BJP.
In this investigation, we will focus on the Facebook page ‘Narendra Bhupendra – નરેન્દ્ર ભૂપેન્દ્ર’. The page has now been deleted. It was named after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel. According to the Meta Ad Library Report, the page was running advertisements in support of Narendra Modi and Bhupendra Patel.
Alt News investigation conclusively proves that the page Narendra Bhupendra – નરેન્દ્ર ભૂપેન્દ્ર is directly linked to the BJP and it grossly violated the Model Code of Conduct prescribed by the Election Commission in terms of spending limit of a candidate and the silence period rule. This report will make use of evidence from the Meta Ad Library report and the Compendium of Instructions on Election Expenditure Monitoring published by the Election Commission of India (September 2022) and social media platforms.
Since Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, stores political advertising data in its Ad Library Report for seven years, information about deleted pages is also available in the Meta Ad Library Report. The page spent Rs. 55,53,940 to publish a total of 3,145 advertisements on Facebook and Instagram between the period of June 14, 2022, and the Gujarat assembly elections held in December 2022.
Expenditure Limit for a Candidate in Elections
On January 6, 2022, the Election Commission of India issued a press release stating that the spending limit for candidates in Lok Sabha and assembly elections had been increased. The expenditure ceiling varied from state to state. For Lok Sabha elections, in states where the cap for individual candidates was Rs 70 Lakh, the amount was increased to Rs 95 Lakh. Similarly, in the states where the limit was Rs 54 Lakh, it was increased to Rs 75 Lakh. In assembly elections, the states where the spending limit for a candidate during the election period was Rs 28 Lakh, the amount was increased to Rs 40 Lakh. Finally, in states where the spending limit for an MLA candidate was Rs 20 Lakh, it was raised to Rs 28 Lakh. According to the this press release, the expenditure limit by any candidate in the assembly elections of Gujarat was capped at Rs 40 Lakh.
The second page of the September 2022 edition of the Compendium of Instructions on Monitoring of Election Expenditure published by the Election Commission contains a clause worth noting. As per Section 77 (1) of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951, every parliamentary and assembly constituency candidate is mandated to maintain a separate and correct account of all expenditure incurred by or authorized by him or his election agent between the date of nomination and the date of declaration of the result of the election (both dates inclusive). As per the rules, the total expenditure during this period shall not exceed the amount prescribed under Section 77(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Under Section 77(2), the account shall contain such particulars as may be prescribed. Rule 90 of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 prescribes separate limits on election expenditure for parliamentary and assembly constituencies in each state and union territory.
Estimated Ad Spending of over Rs 30 Lakh Not Disclosed
It is worth noting Bhupendra Patel filed his nomination from the Ghatlodia assembly constituency of Gujarat on November 16, 2022. Alt News examined the amount spent by the Facebook page ‘Narendra Bhupendra’ and its associated Instagram account on political advertisements from November 16 to December 8, 2022 in the Meta Ad Library Report. We found that its upper bound was Rs. 38,62,694, while the lower bound was listed as Rs. 31,47,600. This means that the estimated ad expenditure by this page and its associated Instagram account between November 16, 2022 and December 8 is Rs. 31,47,600 – Rs. 38,62,694. (The complete file can be found here)
When we checked the details of the election expenses submitted by Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel, we found that he had declared a total sum of Rs 30,15,000, including funds from all sources. He mentioned that Rs 30 Lakh was given to him by the party, while Rs 15,000 came from his personal funds. On the other hand, in the details of election expenditure submitted by Bhupendra Patel, the total expenditure has been shown as Rs 18, 74,049. (The complete file can be found here)
Note: The numeric figures in this document are written in Gujarati.
Schedule-4 of the details of election expenditure submitted by Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel shows the expenditure of only Rs 4,206 in advertisement run through print and electronic media including cable network, bulk SMS or internet and social media. The column headed ‘Nature of medium (electronic/print and duration)’ says ‘voice calls campaign’. It does not mention advertisement run on social media platforms.
Page 3 of the Compendium of Instructions on Election Expenditure Monitoring mentions that the incurring or authorizing of expenditure in excess of the limit prescribed under Section 77(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 is a corrupt practice with reference to Section 123(6) of the same act. This was elucidated by the Supreme Court in the Kanwar Lal Gupta vs. Amar Nath Chawla case.
It is further mentioned in the same page that as per Section 78 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, every contesting candidate is required to lodge a true copy of his election expenditure account to the District Election Officer (DEO) within 30 days of the declaration of the result of the election. Failure to lodge the account of election expenses within the time and in the manner without good reason or justification may result in disqualification of the candidate concerned by the Election Commission of India under Section 10A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The Supreme Court ruled in the L. R. Sivaramagowde vs. T.M. Chandrasekhar case that the Commission can examine the correctness of the account of election expenses filed by the candidate and disqualify the candidate under Section 10A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, if the account is found to be incorrect or untrue.
Page 138 of the Compendium of Instructions on Election Expenditure Monitoring mentions that the guiding principles to distinguish between the expenditure incurred by the political party and the expenditure incurred by the candidates was enunciated by the Supreme Court in the Kanwar Lal Gupta v. Amar Nath Chawla (AIR 1975 SC 308) case, wherein the Apex Court said: “when the political party sponsoring a candidate incurs expenditure in connection with his election as distinguished from expenditure on general party propaganda, and the candidate knowingly takes advantage of it and participates in the programme or activity and fails to disavow the expenditure or consents to it or acquiesce in it, it would be reasonable to infer, say in special circumstances, that he authorized the political party to incur such expenditure and he cannot escape the rigours of the ceiling by saying that he has not incurred the expense, but his political party has done so.”
Page 204 of the Compendium mentions that as per Section 77 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the expenditure incurred by a political party on advertisements in connection with any election can be categorised into three classifications:
(i) Expenditure on general party propaganda seeking support for the party and its candidates in general, but without reference to any particular candidate or any particular class/group of candidates.
(ii) Expenditure incurred by the party in advertisements etc. directly supporting and/or vote for a particular candidate or group of candidates.
(iii) Expenditure incurred by the party which can be related to the expenditure for promoting the prospects of any particular candidate or group of candidates.
Applying the ratio of the Supreme Court’s landmark judgement in Kanwarlal Gupta’s case, the Election Commission has clarified that in the case of any advertisement by political parties, whether in print or electronic or any other media, falling in category (i) above, which is not relatable to the election of a particular candidate or a group of candidates, the expenditure may be treated as expenditure on general party propaganda of the political party. In cases of expenditure falling in categories (ii) and (iii) above which is relatable to a particular candidate or group of candidates, the expenditure shall be treated as expenditure authorized by the candidates concerned and such expenditure shall be account for in the election expenditure of the said candidates. In cases where expenditure is incurred by the party for the benefit of a given group of candidates, the expenditure shall be divided equally among the candidates.
Since the ‘Narendra Bhupendra – નરેન્દ્ર ભૂપેન્દ્ર’ Facebook page was associated with the BJP, named after Bhupendra Patel and the page’s advertisements also used his photo, it would fall under the second or third category of guiding principles laid down in the Supreme Court’s Kanwar Lal Gupta v. Amarnath Chawla judgment to differentiate between election expenditure incurred by a political party and election expenditure incurred by candidates, depending on interpretation.
Page 204 of the Compendium of Instructions on Monitoring of Election Expenditure published by the Election Commission mentions that in the cases of expenditure falling into the second and third category, which is relatable to a particular candidate or group of candidates, the expenditure shall be treated as expenditure authorized by the candidate concerned and such expenditure shall be accounted for in the election expenditure of the said candidate or group of candidates.
Bhupendra Patel, the candidate from the Ghatlodia assembly constituency of Gujarat, furnished the amount, Rs 30,15,000, as total election fund and a total expenditure of Rs 18,74,049. He has not included the cost of advertisement run on social media in his election expenditure. Whereas after nomination, the amount spent for advertisement by the Facebook page ‘Narendra Bhupendra – નરેન્દ્ર ભૂપેન્દ્ર’ named after Bhupendra Patel and Narendra Modi is between Rs 38,62,694 and Rs 31,47,600. These expenses have not been included in the election expenditure filed by Bhupendra Patel.
‘Silence Period’ Rule vis-a-vis Election Campaigning
According to Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, no person shall display any election matter to the public through cinematography, television or other similar means during the period of 48 hours ending with the hours fixed for the conclusion of polling for any election in any polling constituency.
The Election Commission had issued a press release on November 3, 2022 regarding the Gujarat assembly elections. In the 18th point of this press release, an advisory was issued to political parties for the silence period. It clearly stated that this was done in view of the advancements in communication technology and the increasing use of social media under the provision of Section 126 of the RP Act, 1951. It states that “In a multi-phased election, the silence period of the last 48 hours may be on in certain constituencies while campaigning is ongoing in other constituencies. In such an event, there should not be any direct or indirect reference amounting to soliciting support for parties or candidates in the constituencies observing the silence period. During the silence period, star campaigners and other political leaders should refrain from addressing the media by way of press conferences and giving interviews on election matters. The point worth noting is that the assembly seat for which Bhupendra Patel was contesting went to the polls on the last day of the two-phase elections. In other words, the likely excuse that the online advertisement was targeted to another region in Gujarat falls through.
Facebook Page ‘Narendra Bhupendra’ Violated Silence Period Rule
Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel contested from the Ghatlodiya assembly constituency, where elections were held in the second phase on December 5. Hence, according to the rules of the Election Commission, the ‘silence period’ started on the evening of December 3. Upon checking the Meta Ad Library Report, we found that the Facebook page ‘Narendra Bhupendra – નરેન્દ્ર ભૂપેન્દ્ર’ had run several advertisements featuring Bhupendra Patel’s image on December 3, 4 and 5.
Several examples of this page running advertisements in support of the BJP during the Election Commission’s ‘silence period’ can be found in the Meta Ad Library Report. For example, below is a screenshot of an ad that was run on December 5. Alt News would like to remind readers that the final phase of Gujarat assembly elections was on December 5, 2022 in which Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel was contesting from Ghatlodia assembly constituency. The advertisement lists the achievements of the BJP and contains photographs of Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The advertisement features a Gujarati caption (આજે વોટ આપતાં પહેલાં આ બધું યાદ આવવું જોઈએ), which translates to ‘Remember this while casting your vote today’. This confirms that the advertisement was deliberately run on the day of elections.
How is this page connected to the BJP?
We checked the disclaimer of the ‘Narendra Bhupendra – નરેન્દ્ર ભૂપેન્દ્ર’ Facebook page in the Meta Ad Library and found that it contained a website by the name of gujarat2022(dot)com.
We checked the gujarat2022(dot)com website with the help of Website IP Lookup tool, then in the result we got the IP Address (126.96.36.199) of this website.
What is an IP Address?
Every device that connects to the Internet has an Internet Protocol (IP) address, which is a string of unique numbers (xx.xxx.xx.xxx) that identifies a device on the internet. But a domain name (example.com) is easier to remember than a series of numbers. The Domain Name System (DNS) acts like a phonebook for the Internet and maps a domain (example.com) to its IP address. Whenever an Internet user opens that domain through an Internet browser, the DNS sends that query to the IP address. This way, users do not need to remember the number, while the domain is easily recalled.
Since the server (where the website’s data is stored) is also a type of computer, each server has a unique IP address on which many websites can be hosted. We searched this IP Address (188.8.131.52) with the help of the Reverse IP lookup tool and found that currently three websites are being hosted on this IP Address:
We checked the history of all three websites associated with this IP address (184.108.40.206) with the help of BuiltWith’s Historical Website Relationship Profile tool, and found that The Google Tag Manager (GTM) tag of one of these websites agresargujarat(dot)com is connected to another website rajasthanjanaakrosh(dot)com. In other words, both of these websites have the same admin.
What is Google Tag Manager (GTM)?
Google Tag Manager is used by the admin of a website to collect various types of data-metrics. Using Google Tag Manager simplifies the process of website tracking and gives website administrators control over their website analytics. GTM tag is a universal code through which website administrators track or monitor the activity of users. It provides website data to a variety of marketing and analytics platforms (Google Ads, Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel, etc.).
To sum it up, till now we have found traces of three other websites apart from gujarat2022(.)com in this network. Below, we will examine each of these websites one by one and dive into how the websites in this network are directly related to BJP.
The BJP had campaigned with the slogan “ભાજપ સાથે અગ્રેસર ગુજરાત” (Gujarat leading with BJP) during the Gujarat elections, with many BJP leaders sharing this website. The official Twitter handle of BJP Gujarat also tweeted about this website. BJP Gujarat also mentioned this website in its promo video.
A Dainik Bhaskar article dated November 28, 2022 states that the BJP has launched the website rajasthanjanaakrosh.(dot)com against the ruling Congress in Rajasthan. BJP Rajasthan has also promoted this website on its YouTube channel.
We checked the advertisements run by the official Facebook of BJP Gujarat in Meta Ad Library Report and found that between July 11 and July 22, 2022, BJP Gujarat advertised the website bjpgujaratmembership(dot)com asking people to register on this website. This means that this website is also a part of the syndicate of the BJP.
Meta disclaimer contains incomplete information
All these websites are part of the same syndicate. Of these, the Facebook page ‘Narendra Bhupendra – નરેન્દ્ર ભૂપેન્દ્ર’ associated with gujarat2022(dot)com had spent Rs 55,53,940 by running BJP’s propaganda advertisements on Facebook and Instagram. This page has not disclosed its affiliation with BJP anywhere.
On the Create disclaimers and link ad accounts page, Facebook has instructed that any disclaimers created by a page that wants to run ads related to social issues, elections or politics must mention the person or organisation paying for the ads. According to the Meta Ads Rules, when an advertiser runs ads related to social issues, elections or politics, they have to disclose who paid for these ads. Its information is present on the advertisement in the form of ‘Published by’ where it is told who paid to run these advertisements. The point worth noting in the advertisements run by this page is that gujarat2022(dot)com is written in its ‘Published by’ section, whereas in reality this website is part of BJP’s network. However, this page left out this information.
IP Address of BJP-linked website changed in May 2023
We were continuously monitoring the website gujarat2022(.)com found in the disclaimer of the ‘Narendra Bhupendra – નરેન્દ્ર ભૂપેન્દ્ર’ page. During this, we found that in May 2023, the IP address of the website was changed (Archived link from May 2023).
It is noteworthy that this website has a new IP address (220.127.116.11). We had discovered 23 websites hosted on this IP address that were linked to the ruling party BJP, and a network of Facebook pages linked to websites hosted on this IP address had posted propaganda advertisements in support of the BJP. Crores of rupees were spent on advertisements targeting opposition parties and leaders. After this, we had published another investigative report in the same series, in which we had revealed that another website hosted on the same IP address was running advertisements on Facebook in support of BJP. In other words, the number of websites connected to this network turned out to be 23+1=24. Since the website gujarat2022(.)com at the centre of this report is also hosted on the same IP address, the number of websites connected to this network has increased to 25.
We checked the history of this IP address in the website profiler tool BuiltWith and found that this website has been traced here too in the month of May 2023. In this index as well, the number of websites hosted on IP Address (18.104.22.168) has now increased to 25. (Archived link)
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