Influencers sway millions to vote for BJP

Indian folk singer Maithili Thakur thought she was successful, with millions following her on social media for her Hindu devotional tunes. But then India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent her popularity soaring into the stratosphere.

With India’s marathon general election set to start on April 19, critics say Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has co-opted the vast youth fan bases of hugely influential social media stars – in fields ranging from music to culture and fashion to fitness – to push its political message.

Ms Thakur was among 24 influencers handed prizes in March at the first government-organised National Creators Award to promote “storytellers of a confident, assertive New India”.

Many of the social media stars were strikingly similar in their promotion of India’s Hindu-majority culture, and several backed the BJP’s ideology.

“There are many influencers who are collaborating with the current ruling government and making videos,” said Ms Thakur, who has 14 million followers on Facebook and more than 4.5 million each on Instagram and YouTube.

But critics say the chance to maximise their follower numbers and income from social posts by collaborating with the BJP may encourage influencers to uncritically back the ruling party, which is widely expected to win.

Ms Thakur, 23, already a popular reality TV star for her classical singing, got even more attention when Mr Modi shared her devotional song on X during the inauguration of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya in January.

“So much buzz was created,” said Ms Thakur, who was named Cultural Ambassador of the Year at the National Creators Award, where she shared videos of meeting Mr Modi.

The close ties between the Indian government and social media stars worry Mr Prateek Waghre, from digital rights group Internet Freedom Foundation.

“There is enough to be concerned about just by the nature of these collaborations,” said Mr Waghre, noting that influencers want to earn money from their posts and win new followers.

“Purely on the question of incentives, you can see how this will skew them to engage in discourse that’s overwhelmingly positive, or at least non-critical.”

While political parties across the board use social media, critics see the Indian government’s links with influencers as part of a sophisticated soft-power campaign policy by the BJP.

Mr Waghre said he also fears the offers of cash or attention could woo influencers to back a party “irrespective of their own political beliefs”.

With over half of India’s 1.4 billion people aged under 30, according to government health figures, using social media is a “tactic” to reach out to young voters, Ms Thakur added.

The Indian government’s online platform, MyGov, also carried interviews with prize-winning influencers praising Mr Modi.

India’s 462 million YouTube users are the platform’s largest audience by country, according to market tracker Statista.

“By approaching the youth, you are trying to influence the major population of India,” said Ms Thakur, speaking to AFP from a room in her New Delhi home, which she uses as a recording studio, its walls adorned with colourful traditional paintings.

But Ms Thakur has also been appointed as an election commission ambassador, which means she can only encourage people to take part in polls, not promote a party.

Others are more direct.

Ex-wrestler Ankit Baiyanpuria, winner of the national fitness creator award, urged his eight million Instagram fans to vote for Mr Modi’s BJP.

BJP stalwarts, including India’s Trade Minister Piyush Goyal and India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, have featured on YouTuber’s Ranveer Allahbadia’s channels – with the videos tagged “Collaboration with @MyGov”.

Ms Janhvi Singh, 20, who makes posts on culture and religion – from explaining Hindu scriptures to showcasing traditional dress – was given the Heritage Fashion Icon Award.

She called her collaboration with the Indian government an “opportunity”, and said she valued the BJP’s focus on Hinduism because she feared India was “forgetting our roots and culture”.

She noted that she did not directly tell her followers who to vote for.

“I don’t share any such political views on social media openly,” she said. “But I think it is important to spread this message that you should vote.”

But she was clear her loyalties lay with Mr Modi.

“I think there is no other leader who is doing good for the country,” she said.


“By approaching the youth, you are trying to influence the major population of India.”
Indian folk singer Maithili Thakur (left) on close ties between the Indian government and social media influencers

அதற்குள்ளாகவா? இந்தச் செய்திகளையும் படிக்கலாமே!

இந்தச் செய்திகளையும் படிக்கலாமே!