Were Indians brainwashed by BJP

India's BJP is reportedly using data from a government-funded free telephone program to reach out to voters

India's right-wing archnationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is using government-subsidized cell phones distributed to millions of people as a campaign tool, the New York Times reported on Sunday, with the BJP using $ 79 million in free telephone programming in the state Chhattisgarh to address voters directly.

According to the Times report, the program distributed free phones to 2.9 million people in Chhattisgarh and includes plans to build hundreds of cell phone towers. Now a small army of "about 350 contractors originally hired by the state but now paid by the BJP" are working on the phones, dialing the number of recipients, collecting data, and then handing it over to party activists who work for the BJP's State work Prime Minister Raman Singh ahead of the parliamentary elections:

According to the Times, the phones distributed through the program also have a photo of Singh's face as the default wallpaper and come pre-installed with apps promoting press releases from Singh and his colleague, BJP politician Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Using the apps in question prompts the user to share their contact lists as well as other personal information with the BJP.

The use of the telephones and related data for political purposes was scrutinized in particular by opponents of the BJP in the center-left Congress Party and officials of the state election commission. Members of the Congress Party have filed a complaint alleging that state data should be made available to all parties and accusing call center operator Magnum Group of violating laws prohibiting the use of state resources for electoral work the Times wrote. (The Magnum Group was originally hired to manage customer service and conduct quality of service surveys, the paper wrote, although the call center has since been hired by people unknown to the public.)

Chhattisgarh's chief electoral officer, Subrat Sahoo, told the newspaper that while the call center itself was legal, the BJP may not have properly accessed lists of who received the phones:

A previous article in the Economic Times found that "almost all" of the major political parties in India have invested heavily in data analysis and social media operations, but BJP has invested more time and effort than others. This report found that BJP staff and volunteers set up at least 23,000 chat groups on WhatsApp, an encrypted chat service and Facebook subsidiary, in some countries, in which either lack widespread wireless infrastructure, has become an important policy tool. At expensive data rates, residents turn to Wi-Fi networks (such as Brazil).

Alex Paul Menon, who heads the Chhattisgarh Infotech Promotion Society, which in turn runs the telephone program, told the Times that it was not intended for political purposes, but rather a form of "nation building." He told the Times that his agency doesn't share user data and that the apps that got on the phones were selected by a state committee.

According to the Times, surveys by the state that recipients use the phones for standard purposes - speaking to relatives, surfing the Internet, and texting - but interviews with a number of local residents indicated that "they hardly used the phones" reportedly poorly built and suffered under a number of technical problems and limited data rates. However, the paper added that the BJP has also launched a similar program in the state of Rajasthan and it is under consideration elsewhere.

[New York Times]