2024 Indian elections Series: volunteers, government data, and regulation

During next year’s election super year, one of the largest elections to be held will be India’s general election during which it’s estimated that over 600 million people will vote. In anticipation of this, Tactical Tech’s Influence Industry Project has been working with three researchers to highlight aspects of the influence industry across the country.

In February 2024, current prime minister, Nardendra Modi, representing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will seek a third term. After nearly a decade in power, Modi and the BJP maintain a high level of popularity across the country. Pointing to recent wins for the BJP in large state elections across India in December 2023, some monitors suggest that Modi and his party have a good chance of victory. Though now known around the world for his largely successful and ambitious push towards digitalisation, economic development and, in the eyes of some, exclusionary Hindu nationalism, Modi’s 2014 election campaign has been lauded as changing the landscape of elections in India in particular due to the use of data-driven campaign techniques.

“How an Indian political consulting firm works: A Case Study of I-PAC” by Vasudevan Sridharan examines the rise and role of the non-governmental organisation Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) and its evolution into the political consulting group, Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC). Led, in 2014, by Prashant Kishor, Sridharan’s piece covers not only the history, but also the methods, controversies and ongoing impact of the organisation on Indian national politics and politics abroad.

Amber Sinha describes in “Regulating Diffuse Actors in India,” how the various actors involved in the volunteer-base and data-driven nature, of organisations like I-PAC, are often unregulated. Sinha presents the history and current status of the Election Commission office’s Model Code of Conduct, which is a non-legally binding set of rules to govern free and fair elections, and argues that these rules are not comprehensive enough in for the current digital-campaign context.

Modi and his administrations push towards digitalisation has been a central pillar of not only his domestic promises, but also an opportunity to highlight the power of the country. In 2015, shortly after his election, Prime Minister Modi signed “Digital India” into being which was designed to enable and deliver digital services across India as well as develop digital infrastructure. Through this initiative, numerous programs were developed and several, including a citizen ID initiative, the Aadhaar program, were fortified.

We collaborated with Safina Nabi, who explores in her piece, "Government data in political hands: Aadhaar citizen ID and the 2024 Indian election campaigns" by Safina Nabi the digitalisation of sensitive data of citizens and residents across India within systems that has come about with very little accountability or transparency, and has consequently been picked up for political purposes. The article particularly explores the caase of the Aadhaar program, which was initially designed as a unique identifying number program, but since its inception, critics have pointed to the possibility that this data can be – and in some instances has been – applied to political elections.

How an Indian political consulting firm works: A case study of I-PAC by Vasudevan Sridharan

Regulating Diffuse Actors in the 2024 Indian Elections by Amber Sinha

Government data in political hands: Aadhaar citizen ID and the 2024 Indian election campaigns by Safina Nabi

Ahead of the 2024 Indian elections, the Influence Industry Project has prepared resources to support activists, organisations and groups in their election readiness, including:

Further materials

„A Voter’s Guide: 7 Tips to Detox Your Data“ in collaboration with Data Detox Kit in English and Bengali

„Your Data, Our Democracy“ a video by Tactical Tech highlighting how political groups can use personal data, available on Peertube in English and with Bengali subtitles

Interview with Kumar Sambhav about his work in investigating the influence industry in India

Visit the Influence Industry Explorer database and filter by country to see the companies we have identified as part of the influence industry in India

Should you or your organisation be interested in diving deeper into these topics, either through workshops or extended materials, please get in touch. Our team is able to provide 1-to-1 training sessions as well as workshops for groups.

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