How political parties are using AI to bring personalities to life

(From left) Sumon K. Chakrabarti, CEO of Buffalo Soldiers; Sagar Vishnoi, political strategist; Divyendra Singh Jadoun, founder Polymath Solution; Senthil Nayagam, founder, Muonium. (Tarun Kumar Sahu/Mint)
(From left) Sumon K. Chakrabarti, CEO of Buffalo Soldiers; Sagar Vishnoi, political strategist; Divyendra Singh Jadoun, founder Polymath Solution; Senthil Nayagam, founder, Muonium. (Tarun Kumar Sahu/Mint)


  • Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Both J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi passed away years ago. But AI artists have figured out a way to resurrect them, voice-clone others, & create deepfakes. The AI campaigns do catch the voter's attention. And such content is particularly useful for ‘parachute leaders’.

Bengaluru: On the one hand, the central government is harassing us. On the other, the state government is very corrupt," declared J. Jayalalithaa in her unmistakable voice. This wasn’t a clip of an old speech from her days in the Tamil Nadu opposition; these were words being heard by the public for the first time. The short sound byte, just over a minute long, was released on 24 February, the birth anniversary of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader and former chief minister.

While they referred to the current dispensation at the Centre and in the state, ‘Amma’, as she was popularly known, hadn’t actually uttered the words. She couldn’t have, given that she had passed away in December 2016. The clip had been created by cloning her voice.

The party had commissioned the clip, which was created using artificial intelligence (AI), to commemorate her birth anniversary and boost the morale of the party faithful. Jayalalithaa’s voice listed some of the things that she had done while in power, such as providing computers to schools and setting up canteens to provide subsidized food. It noted that the party had been through many ups and downs and ended by urging people to vote for Edappadi Palaniswami, the current leader of the AIADMK, and bring it back to power.

The clip was a hit and garnered a flood of responses online, such as “Miss you Amma," “Love you Amma," “I’m crying" and so on.

AI artists resurrected Jayalalithaa by cloning her voice.
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AI artists resurrected Jayalalithaa by cloning her voice. (X)

Jayalalithaa isn’t the only Tamil politician who has been resurrected. A month earlier, her archrival and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, who died in 2018, had been brought back to life in a virtual avatar thanks to AI. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader featured in a video at the launch of party senior and member of parliament T.R. Baalu’s autobiography.

With elections on the horizon, the late leader’s digital avatar, clad in his trademark white shirt, yellow shawl and iconic black sunglasses, showered praises on his son M.K. Stalin, the current chief minister. The dialogue in the eight-minute clip was peppered with paeans such as: “I was discussing the great job Stalin and T.R. Baalu are doing with Thanthai Periyar (icon of the Dravidian movement) and Perarignar Anna (DMK founder and former CM)," and “Stalin not only fulfilled poll promises but also promises not uttered," before reeling off a stream of achievements by his son to propel Tamil Nadu forward.

M. Karunanidhi, who died in 2018, had been brought back to life in a virtual avatar.
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M. Karunanidhi, who died in 2018, had been brought back to life in a virtual avatar. (YouTube)

Like Jayalalithaa’s clip with her followers, Karunanidhi’s video was a big hit with the audience.

The rebirth has inspired others, including Congress hopefuls. Last month, Behindwoods, a popular Instagram handle with four million followers, posted a video where H. Vasanthakumar, late Kanniyakumari member of parliament and founder of consumer durables retailer Vasanth & Co., proudly asks the people to vote for his son, movie star-turned-politician Vijay Vasanth, who is contesting in the Kanniyakumari seat. Clad in a white shirt and the Congress tricoloured shawl, Vasanthakumar says, “Although I died, my soul is still with all of you." He then goes on to praise his son, saying that he would work for the betterment of Kanniyakumari and for the progress of the next generations. Vasanthakumar died four years ago from covid.

It isn’t just in Tamil Nadu. In recent months, political parties have used AI to resurrect dead politicians, voice-clone them and create deepfakes, which have flooded social media. While many of these have only begun appearing in recent weeks, the work that went into them has been going on for months.

Catching the young

Divyendra Singh Jadoun, founder of Polymath Solution.
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Divyendra Singh Jadoun, founder of Polymath Solution.

The 2024 Lok Sabha election is the world’s largest election, featuring over 10 million young citizens voting for the first time. Social media is therefore a critical tool for political parties to influence young voters. And so, platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, which hundreds of millions of Indians access to get their daily news and entertainment, have become a big part of the election.

And that’s where AI experts such as Divyendra Singh Jadoun come in. Jadoun, who hails from Pushkar, Rajasthan, is neither a coder nor a tech wizard but an intermediate pass who spent five years as a political worker. In 2020, he learnt about deepfake technology and his interest was immediately piqued. With his limited technological skills, Jadoun started researching deepfakes and spent 400 hours online mastering the use of the AI tools needed to create deepfakes.

In 2021, he started publishing these deepfakes on YouTube and Instagram. His deepfakes of characters from the American series Breaking Bad and replacing Margot Robbie with Kangana Ranaut in a clip of the movie Barbie brought in deals from advertisers and later political parties.

Divyendra Singh Jadoun created deepfakes of characters from the American series Breaking Bad.
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Divyendra Singh Jadoun created deepfakes of characters from the American series Breaking Bad. (Instagram)

“Initially the requests were for deepfakes, but later they would ask us to integrate AI into traditional businesses. But, we saw a major surge after the launch of ChatGPT," says Jadoun, who founded Polymath Solution, a synthetic media company, to further his AI ambitions.

Down south, Chennai-based Senthil Nayagam, like Jadoun, suddenly finds his skills very much in demand. He was drawn to the world of AI after ChatGPT launched in 2020, intrigued by how it needed far less time to produce a piece of work. After experimenting with several AI tools, he started Muonium, an AI media tech firm, which focuses on producing AI movies.

Soon, Nayagam started getting work from political parties. His most recognized work was resurrecting M. Karunanidhi before large live audiences. After his work on Karunanidhi, Nayagam started getting interest for more AI projects, even from countries such as Japan and Malaysia. Currently, he is working with three political parties in India and his AI work spans the southern states.

Senthil Nayagam, founder, Muonium.
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Senthil Nayagam, founder, Muonium.

A new canvas

Since last year, with the general elections looming, Jadoun’s skills to make deepfakes have drawn attention in the political arena. From creating multilingual personalized messaging to AI songs in which everything from the lyrics to vocals is AI generated, Jadoun has been busy over the past few months working on several political campaigns. He has been working with politicians both from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as the opposition Indian National Congress (INC).

“The political parties usually ask for our general services, then they tell us about the things they want like AI videos or personalized messaging. They even ask us for other creative ways on how to implement AI into their systems," he says.


There are multiple areas where AI is being adapted. But, I am trying to get into movies. —Senthil Nayagam

Nayagam meanwhile was busy buying machines and servers as he anticipated a huge workload during the elections. While most of the work is automated, he works with contractual employees who understand the nuances of local languages and the context, mostly for quality control. “This is crucial because if it’s not checked, it may have a negative impact."

“We are building the infrastructure, which could be automated. We want to run everything locally," says Nayagam. However, he understands that the political work is temporary, and wants to focus on creating AI movies, which he believes have a lot of scope in India.

“There are multiple areas where AI is being adapted. But, I am trying to get into movies early so as to build a moat, because the market will become increasingly competitive."

Nayagam’s interest in movies began after he swapped actors Simran and Kajal Aggarwal in a dance video originally featuring Tamannaah Bhatia from Rajnikanth’s film Jailer.

No measurable impact

Experts are unclear about the impact of AI on voters. Vinay Deshpande, chief technology officer of Rajneethi, a Bengaluru-based political consulting firm, says that AI-videos or voice cloning catches the attention of the voter for a few minutes. “We cannot measure the impact of such content but it creates a wave, essentially meaning that the voters are consuming more content from that particular party."

Another reason why AI is being heavily used in this particular election is because many politicians are parachute leaders, which means they do not hail from that particular constituency and voters may not know them, says Despande. “That’s why we are seeing the use of personalized messages, trying to build recall, using interactive holograms."

Deshpande says he is currently working for around 50 campaigns. The Rajneethi team spends hours strategizing on social media campaigns for political leaders. “The work for this election started almost three years back. We first start with on-the-ground work to understand socio-engineering, which means we identify the constituency and the kind of content that would strike a chord there. Then we identify the 5-10% of voters we can persuade and accordingly create the content."

Coming of age

Sumon K. Chakrabarti, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of digital creative agency Buffalo Soldiers, which is also working on AI content for political parties, says that GenAI has mainly been used to increase content production this election.

“Content is now being created for radio onwards to every medium on social media, which was not the case before." He adds that voice is the most used feature in GenAI this election.

GenAI has mainly been used to increase content production this election.
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GenAI has mainly been used to increase content production this election. (istockphoto)

Devang Dave, who works with BJP Maharashtra, told Mint that the party also uses AI in other ways. “We have a moving van that drives around constituencies, and we play Narendra Modi’s speeches. Using AI, we try to identify the audience in that area. If it’s youth, the speech focuses on them; if it’s women, the speech focuses on women-centric issues. We are also focusing on translation to widen our reach."

Cost analysis

Political strategist Sagar Vishnoi says that a southern regional party would be willing to spend around 1-2 crore for elections on AI while national parties could spend more than 50 crore.

The availability of several AI tools brings down the cost of the work. “Coders who create deepfakes through open source do it for a negligible cost, but those who use platforms charge $30-$300, depending on the quality," says Jadoun. Voice cloning has also been used quite a few times by political parties. Jadoun charges around 60,000 for one such voice recording.

Political strategist Sagar Vishnoi.
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Political strategist Sagar Vishnoi.

“We do translation in 117 languages, and charge 20,000 per translation," he adds. “If the project is completely dependent on deepfake or voice cloning, the charges increase. Though the work is automated, computation power is a factor. If it’s a high-quality video, then we usually charge $4 an hour."

Most of these jobs are driven by political consultants. “They come to us with what they want, and sometimes we suggest what could work better," explains Nayagam.

Concerns around deepfakes

At least 64 countries are holding national elections this year, and many, including the US, Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh, have already seen multiple videos and deepfakes ahead of elections.

Jaspreet Bindra, founder of UK-based advisory The Tech Whisperer, says that the scale of AI use in India would be much higher. “Secondly, foreign institutions are stronger, so the usage of AI is more restricted in developed countries. Here, we can see party workers or supporters also using AI though not in an organized way."

 Jaspreet Bindra, founder, The Tech Whisperer.
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Jaspreet Bindra, founder, The Tech Whisperer. (Mint)

Prateek Waghre, policy director of digital rights advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), says that it’s already tough to identify voice cloning, while deepfakes are still not perfect. “However, as the technology evolves, it would become increasingly difficult to identify these videos, and they could mislead people."

So far, the synthetic content such as AI memes or voice cloning shared by political parties has had no disclaimers. The experts note that even for social media companies to find every single piece of AI content is difficult, in the absence of disclaimers.

On the concerns around automated personalized calls, Waghre says, “It is concerning because everyone may not have the understanding about such content. If they receive an automated call from a politician, many voters may get swayed thinking the leader actually called."

So far, the synthetic content such as AI memes or voice cloning shared by political parties has had no disclaimers.

Last week, the Election Commission of India released guidelines for “responsible and ethical use of social media platforms" during the election period.

The guidelines stated that such content “has the potential to wrongfully sway voter opinions, deepen societal divisions, and erode trust in electioneering process." Further, it has prohibited political parties from disseminating any misinformation, as well as impersonation, publishing and circulating deepfake audios and videos.

“While regulating AI, the government needs to see that they are not as controlled as China or too liberal as the US, as it may lead to more misuse and impact society," says Vishnoi. “Right now, it’s very entertaining to see these songs, memes and face-swaps. But it could become dangerous if it goes out of hand."

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