On February 6, a day after Narendra Modi the formation of a trust to oversee the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, several top newspapers in Delhi carried a full-page advertisement congratulating the prime minister on the decision.
The trust will be called the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra, Modi told the Lok Sabha.
The ad appeared in the Delhi editions of the Times of India, Dainik Jagran, Hindustan Hindi, Navbharat Times, and Dainik Bhaskar. It read: “For the formation of an autonomous trust to construct a grand temple for Shri Ram, Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra, and for the allotment of 67 acres of land, we thank Narendra Modi. Come, in this historical moment, let’s all get together for the rejuvenation of Shri Ram’s abode and extend our support for the construction of the Ram Mandir.”
In small print at the bottom right corner were the words “Karmatand Foundation”.
The timing of the advertisement was suspect, appearing two days before Delhi votes in the Assembly election. It looked like it was issued by an autonomous organisation — the Karmatand Foundation — to thank the prime minister. But we could not shake off the feeling that there was some connection to the Bharatiya Janata Party. So, we did some digging.
What’s the Karmatand Foundation?
First, Newslaundry established that the advertisement was published only in Delhi, even though the temple will be built in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.
Next, we investigated the advertiser. The Karmatand Foundation was established in 2008-09. Initially operating from Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar, its head office is now in Giridh district in Jharkhand. Interestingly, there’s a village in the same district named Karmatand.
The foundation runs the KN Bakshi College of Education in Giridh to train teachers. Recognised by the Vinoba Bhave University, Hazaribag, the college offers bachelor’s degrees in education and a diploma in elementary education.
So, why did this institution feel the need to congratulate Modi through newspaper ads?
Newslaundry looked into KN Bakshi, after whom the college is named. Turned out Kartik Narayan Bakshi is the late father of Shiv Shakti Nath Bakshi, who set up the college.
Shiv Shakti Nath Bakshi’s says he’s the national convenor of the “BJP Journals & Publication Department”. Bakshi is also the executive editor of Kamal Sandesh, the party’s mouthpiece. A former student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, he was associated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Shiv Shakti Nath Bakshi is also the trustee of the Karmatand Foundation.
Newslaundry contacted Bakshi to find out more about the foundation. “Running the college is one of the things Karmatand Foundation does,” Bakshi said. “Apart from this, through the foundation, we work on culture, education, and the environment, along with other sectors.”
Why did the foundation take out a full-page advertisement only in Delhi, two days before the election? “Delhi is the national capital. We wanted to send our message to the national capital,” Bakshi replied. “From here, the message will disseminate to the entire nation.”
Bakshi said the advertisement was “not related to the Delhi election”. “The prime minister announced it yesterday. Didn’t all newspapers cover it?” he said. “Doesn’t that influence the Delhi election? This advertisement was to offer gratitude.”
But the ad was published by a foundation whose trustee has close ties to the BJP. Why didn’t the BJP run the ad itself? Bakshi said, “See, the BJP has nothing to do with this advertisement. We have issued it through our organisation. A lot of other people are also associated with the Karmatand Foundation. They are associated with different organisations. This organisation doesn’t solely belong to me.”
Newslaundry contacted Ranvijay Shankar, the director of the Karmatand Foundation. Shankar is also the joint secretary of the KN Bakshi College.
“Ideologically, we support the Ram Mandir. We were happy to hear of the decision,” Shankar said. “Everyone in the trust decided we should post an advertisement. That’s when we issued it.”
Newslaundry asked if the ad, which openly promoted Modi, violated the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct in Delhi. Like Bakshi, Shankar doubled down. “This advertisement is not related to the Delhi election,” he said. “I don’t think it will influence the elections in any way. I am not connected to the BJP though I support them ideologically.”
Recall that before the Lok Sabha election in May 2019, a shiny new channel debuted on TV. was dedicated to the prime minister, broadcasting recordings of his speeches, the BJP’s schemes, and even movies like Bose: The Forgotten Hero. To add to the controversy, NaMo TV was not a licensed channel but a direct-to-home advertisement platform.
Questions were raised at the time about the applicability of the Model Code of Conduct and they need to be raised again in this instance. For publishing an ad lauding Modi, merely 48 hours before the Delhi election, is suspicious.