The 2019 Indian elections, which begin in less than a week, loom large in Diggaj Mogra’s life. It’s all he has time for. “If you were to register as a candidate today, by tomorrow you would have 50 different companies calling you saying, ‘We’ll do SMS for you, give you databases, etc.’,” says Mogra, a director at Jarvis Consulting. A Mumbai-based election strategy and tech company, Jarvis (like the AI in the Iron Man films) was founded by two former executives at cab aggregator Ola—Piyush Jalan and Piyush Gupta—in December 2016.
“Digital”, “technology” and “social” have dominated the Indian electoral lexicon ever since the 2014 race—dubbed India’s first “social media election”—courtesy the campaign of the now-ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. In the five years since, having a social media or digital presence has gone from being cutting edge to the baseline for India’s political parties.
But for Mogra—in his late 20s now; a computer engineer by training and an election strategy specialist for the past five years or so—that’s all blasé. “We don’t do things like social media campaigning now,” he says when we meet for a quick cup of tea at a cafe near his New Delhi office.
Jarvis focuses on data analytics—voter trends, microtargeting, the whole package—as well as developing tech to help parties coordinate internally. Think tracking and monitoring the supply of resources and funds across states, districts and blocks.
The company, adds Mogra, is working on analytics for this year’s election for its clients. He declined to identify them (or reveal much in the way of details about his work) but did mention that they work with both individual leaders and political parties as a whole.
Indian politicians are expected to spend anywhere from Rs 600 crore ($86.7 million) to Rs 5,000 crore ($722.9 million) to Rs 12,000 crore ($1.73 billion) on digital campaigns in the upcoming national elections. Depending on whom you ask. Election spending is a notoriously difficult metric to measure in India, given the vast amounts of off-the-books expenditure.
But everyone is in agreement that digital expenditure has been rising, even as a proportion of total spending. “Political parties’ digital media spending is up from 5% [in 2014] to 25% now,” says Vineet Sodhani, CEO of marketing and media advisory firm Spatial Access.
And everyone wants a piece of the pie.
In an interplay of democracy and capitalism in the world’s biggest (and perhaps most expensive) elections, analytics and digital marketing companies are seeing a burgeoning political market.