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People with covered faces walk past a cutout of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ahead of his election campaign rally, in Ayodhya, India, on May 5, 2024. Image Credit: REUTERS

BENGALURU/LUCKNOW: Manipulated videos are taking centre stage as campaigning heats up in India’s election, with fake clips involving two top aides of Prime Minister Narendra Modi triggering police investigations and the arrest of some workers of his rival Congress party.

In what has been dubbed as India’s first AI election, Modi said last week fake voices were being used to purportedly show leaders making “statements that we have never even thought of”, calling it a conspiracy “to create tension in society.”

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Indian police — already investigating the spread of fake videos showing Bollywood actors criticizing Modi — are now investigating a doctored online clip that showed federal home minister Amit Shah saying the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party will stop certain social guarantees for minorities, a subject sensitive for millions of voters.

Shah retorted on X, posting his “original” and the edited “fake” speech and alleging — without providing any evidence — that the main opposition Congress was behind the video it created to mislead the public. The minister said “directions have been issued to the police to address this issue.” Indian police arrested at least nine people, including six members of Congress’ social media teams, in the states of Assam, Gujarat, Telangana and New Delhi last week for circulating the fake video, according to police statements.

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Five of the Congress workers were released on bail, but the most high-profile arrest made by the cyber crime unit of New Delhi police came on Friday, when they detained a Congress national social media coordinator, Arun Reddy, for sharing the video.

New Delhi is one region where Shah’s ministry directly controls police. Reddy has been sent into three-day custody.

The arrest has sparked protests from Congress workers with many posting on X using the #ReleaseArunReddy tag. Congress lawmaker Manickam Tagore said the arrest was an example of “authoritarian misuse of power by the regime.”

Congress’ head of social media, Supriya Shrinate, did not respond to messages and an email seeking comment.


India’s election from April 19 to June 1 will be the world’s largest democratic event.

Ninety-four Lok Sabha seats across 12 states and Union territories will go to polls in the third phase on May 7.

With nearly a billion voters and more than 800 million internet users, tackling the spread of misinformation is a high stakes job. It involves round-the-clock monitoring by police and election officials who often issue take down orders to Facebook and X as investigations start.

In India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, more than 500 people keep tabs on online content, flagging controversial posts and coordinating with social media companies for their removal when needed, police chief Prashant Kumar told Reuters on Saturday.

Another fake video that sparked a storm last week showed Yogi Adityanath, the state’s chief minister, criticizing Modi for not doing enough for families of those who died in a 2019 militant attack.

Though fact checkers said the video was created using different parts of an original clip, state police called it an “AI generated, deepfake”.

Using internet address tracking, state police arrested a man named Shyam Gupta on May 2 who had shared the fake video post on X a day earlier, receiving over 3,000 views and 11 likes.

The police have accused Gupta of forgery and promoting enmity under Indian law provisions that can carry a jail term of up to seven years if convicted. Reuters could not reach him as he is currently serving a 14-day custody period.

“This person is not a tech guy. Had he been tech savvy, arresting him quickly would not have been possible,” said police officer Kumar.

Meanwhile, Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi will contest the general election from the family bastion in the north, his Congress party announced on Friday, a move that will challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a region he dominates.

Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, will contest from Raebareli in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh state, Congress said, in addition to Wayanad in Kerala state in the south, which has already voted. India allows candidates to contest multiple constituencies but they can represent only one.

Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state and elects 80 lawmakers to the lower house of parliament, the most of any state. In the last election in 2019, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and allies won 64 seats, including from Amethi, adjacent to Raebareli, where Gandhi was defeated.

His return to the area, albeit for a second constituency, will invigorate the party, Congress officials said.

Gandhi said being nominated from Raebareli was an “emotional moment” for him.

“My mother has entrusted me with the responsibility...with great confidence and given me the opportunity to serve it,” he posted on X.

“In the ongoing battle for justice and against injustice, I seek the love and blessings of my loved ones. I am confident that all of you are standing with me in this battle to save the constitution and democracy,” he said.

Gandhi’s mother Sonia won from Raebareli in 2019, which has returned a Congress candidate in 17 of the 20 elections held there since 1952, mostly members of the Gandhi family. Sonia Gandhi is now a member of the upper house of parliament.