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India’s AI-fuelled electoral turmoil – Hindustan Times

The truth could become the first casualty as the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in campaigning disrupts India’s 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the world’s largest democratic exercise.

PREMIUM The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) has generated intensely realistic AI renderings of its iconic former president, M. Karunanidhi, delivering rousing speeches praising his son M.K. Stalin’s leadership.(Screengrab of Karunanidhi’s AI avatar video from a telecast/X)

Images and voices of dead politicians resurrected to campaign, politicians simultaneously making speeches in multiple languages — India’s first AI-fuelled elections offer an unchartered landscape, a frontier that’s uncertain and hazy.

The year 2019 marked the inception of digital campaigning in Indian elections; in 2024, AI-enabled campaigning is at the vanguard.

The BJP has often faced censure for ostensibly imposing Hindi as the dominant lingua franca.

Cognisant of India’s linguistic diversity, Bhashini, a voice translation and dubbing tool, was employed to generate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speeches at the Kashi Tamil Sangamam a few months ago, catering to a Tamil audience. After this success, his Hindi speeches were translated into Bangla, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Marathi, Odia and Malayalam, leveraging AI. From this pioneering juncture of AI electioneering, a trend emerged and then escalated.

Zombie politicians

AI is being used to resurrect iconic politicians.

Major parties are exploring deepfake technology to reanimate images and voices of departed leaders on the campaign trail. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) has led this AI charge, generating intensely realistic AI renderings of its iconic former president, M. Karunanidhi, delivering rousing speeches praising his son M.K. Stalin’s leadership.

The DMK’s rival, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), has circulated an AI-cloned audio message in the voice of former supremo J. Jayalalithaa.

Not to be outdone, the Congress party is also planning to take the AI route. Reports indicate that the party may recreate Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru using AI to have the legendary leaders answer questions about the current political context and criticise the BJP government’s “style of functioning” in their voices.

This proliferation of ‘reborn’ political avatars has sparked ethical debates. Proponents argue it allows enduring leaders to share their visions — even if artificially — and mentor modern causes from beyond the grave. Critics condemn it as misinformation that violates the deceased’s autonomy by putting words in their mouth without consent.

Modi goes Bollywood

Social media is replete with AI-generated videos and audio featuring Modi singing popular songs in various Indian languages, which can potentially influence the 2024 elections. These deepfake creations, while amusing on the surface, serve a profound political purpose in a linguistically diverse nation like India.

By transcending language barriers and making Modi more relatable to non-Hindi-speaking populations, these AI renditions could endear him to new voting blocs and expand his appeal beyond his traditional support base. The accessibility and reach of these AI Modi songs, combined with their entertainment value, make them potentially powerful tools for connecting with voters at an emotional level and shaping perceptions in a way that could influence electoral outcomes.

The use of memes

Parties have been actively battling opponents using counterfeit content on social media. BJP took to Instagram to share a faux video of Rahul Gandhi seemingly saying: “I don’t do anything.”

Conversely, Congress posted Modi’s facial likeness onto the body of the singer Justh, singer of the popular song Chor (Thief). The vocals were adjusted through AI to correspond closely to Modi’s voice. More recently, the Congress handle on a social media platform shared an AI-modified picture of PM Modi facing a poster of a woman wrestler in tears.

“Politics is about creating perception; with AI tools [of voice and video modulation] and a click, you can turn the perception on its head in a minute,” said Arun Reddy, the national coordinator for social media at the Congress.

These seemingly innocuous memes belie the disruptive potential of AI in redefining how political campaigns are waged and how leaders connect with the electorate in an increasingly technology-driven landscape.

Indian laws and AI

Indian laws do not govern AI, given its recency. Updated investigative and enforcement mechanisms, public education campaigns, and AI ethics guidelines — are irrefutably required to preserve the sanctity of India’s elections before the point of no return is breached.

Whether this new frontier will be seen as a visionary stride or a tech development undermining democracy remains uncertain.

The ultimate prey to generative AI’s manufactured facts is the enfranchised citizen. Democracy’s kernels of truth have never been more vulnerable to insidious technology disruption, and only truth within the manageable reach of the citizens is synthetic.

Suvrat Arora is an independent writer based in Bengaluru, India. His works have appeared in Al Jazeera, The Telegraph, Outlook India and elsewhere. He can be reached at

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