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The Indian state of Karnataka went to elections in May 2023. It was surprising to note how the Chinese media gave coverage to a state election in India, a phenomenon that was not seen before. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) published articles with headlines like “What Congress’ Win over Modi’s BJP in Karnataka Means for India’s 2024 Election,” and “Bye-bye Modi? Ruling BJP voted in key Indian states ahead of the national vote.” China is always a threat to Indian Democracy.

This gives a clear indication that China and many other nations who do not find Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government suitable for their agenda would undertake steps to either unseat him or weaken his position so that he cannot make hard decisions. Fair and free elections are the hallmark of any democracy. The interference from these external forces is a clear and imminent threat to national security.

The Old Methods

China has been funding terrorists and Maoists in India. Now, the same secret funds could be diverted to a few suitable candidates who it thinks would toe its line if elected. After all, China is accused of funding 11 Canadian candidates in the 2019 federal elections through the Toronto consulate.

There are 174 Chinese companies registered in India. Funding through them could be one of the easiest ways to influence election results in India. After all, the track record of most of these companies hasn’t been optimum in India. In July 2022 the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raided over 44 places across the country in a money-laundering investigation against Chinese smartphone manufacturers Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, and their distributors. During these raids, a fraud of Rs 6500 crore was unearthed.

Hawala is another prominent method to deal with illicit money transactions. The Middle East and especially Dubai is a prominent player in Hawala transactions. Routes taken from the Middle East are mostly via Kerala and sometimes Nepal. As per an estimate, a decade ago Indian exchequer was losing over Rs10 lakh crore every year due to Hawala.

Most Effective: Students, Academia and Influencers

Every revolution, mass movement, and election has had students at the forefront. They have energy, collectivism, and a malleable persona. Teachers and social media influencers have the maximum impact on shaping the thought processes of these students. Even in India, most universities are left-leaning with many academics as Communist Party of China (CCP) sympathizers. Their views and guidance have an immense effect on students’ malleable minds.

CCP understood the importance and threat of social media very early on. They also understood the student power during the 4th of June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. That is the reason China banned all the external social media platforms mentioned above and created its sinicized version. Now the whole nation, including students, consumes the same propaganda that CCP pedals.

The New Method

What money cannot achieve, sometimes technology can do that for you. The new age technology is scary and the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) makes it scarier. How does AI work? AI in its simplest form is used to manipulate public opinion. CCP uses massive swarms of political bots to spread propaganda and fake news.

Typically disguised as ordinary human accounts, bots have been responsible for spreading misinformation and contributing to an acrimonious political climate on sites like Twitter and Facebook in almost every Indian state but especially in North East India, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Farmers’ protests, anti-CAA protests, the US BLM, and Capitol protests are some of the most glaring examples.

Modus Operandi to Disrupt the Election

  • · Attacking voters from the opposing camp on social media and discouraging them from going to the voting booth
  • · Infiltrate the online spaces used by targeted campaigners to spread highly automated content
  • · Generate a massive storm of messages that would choke off opposing messages and thereby support the desired candidate’s campaign

As per reports, similar techniques were used to make Donald Trump look good in the 2016 presidential elections and bad in the 2020 elections. However, with big data and machine learning techniques, the whole game plan has moved to the next level. The highly sophisticated micro-targeting operation using these advanced technologies could give mind-boggling results in influencing people.

As per an IB Times report, China has stolen the personal information of 80 percent of Americans. The methods used to steal data include hacking healthcare companies and technology, such as smart homes, sensors, and 5G networks. A similar pattern emerged in India when China-backed hackers infiltrated the Aadhaar database and stole data from 1.1 billion Indian citizens including names, addresses, photos, phone numbers, email IDs, and biometric data in 2018.

A study conducted by Haoyu Liu (University of Edinburgh), Douglas Leith (Trinity College Dublin), and Paul Patras (University of Edinburgh) found that Chinese smartphones pose a serious threat to personal data. Keeping China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law and the 2014 Counter-Espionage Law in mind, the Indian telecom ministry granted permission to a dozen firms – including Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung’s network unit to conduct 5G technology trials, however, Chinese Huawei and ZTE were kept out.

The Assault on Democracy

Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels once said — “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Well, AI is making Joseph Goebbels’ job easy. The collected data is further updated with legitimate or illegitimate surveys on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.

AI facilitates very precise audience targeting which is crucial in political campaigns. Utilizing all the data, AI identifies hardcore supporters of a particular candidate. Those supporters are chucked out of the system as the CCP doesn’t want to waste money on those who already support or oppose a particular candidate. Even after that, a substantial number is left who are swing voters and need a push. These voters are divided based on caste, religion, age, and social standing. They are further divided based on their surfing habits, and what kind of videos, news, or messages they are forwarding or spending time watching.

But the biggest damage CCP would do to a democratic process is through deep fake videos, audio, and pictures. One of the most scarily convincing deepfakes is this Morgan Freeman deepfake. The Dutch deepfake YouTube Channel Diep Nep first shared the video last year. There is no explanation required.


Even if these methods are not effective today, that day is not far away when the Chinese methods would be so convincing that voters would not be able to distinguish between real and fake. The worst scenario for any nation would be when China tries to get an “agent” elected to a democratic parliament.

China has usually seen India as a secondary threat compared to the United States and Japan. However, India’s stand during the 2017 Doklam stand-off, Galwan and Tawang intrusions, rejection of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and active participation in Quad have changed that belief in Chinese strategic circles. China today sees India as a greater threat. “Containing India” has become a buzzword in these circles.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies

By Cdr Sandeep Dhawan

Cdr Sandeep Dhawan served in the Indian Navy from 1988 to 2009. He was a Maritime Reconnaissance Pilot and a Flying Instructor. He has flown eight types of aircraft and has over 12000 hours of flying experience. He has served as Captain with Kingfisher Airlines, SpiceJet, and Jet Airways. In addition to the Indian Navy, he has served with IAF and the Indian Coast Guard. He is a geopolitical analyst and writes for various online websites and organizations. His personal website is has a huge fan following and a very large viewership.