Smart political advertising can rally a nation behind a politician, and Australians aren’t the only voters bombarded with ads come election-time.

The Indian general election is currently taking place over a six-week period, the longest in the country’s history. It’s notable for controversial ad campaigns aimed at swaying India’s 543 constituencies (India is the world’s biggest democracy).

Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has attracted attention with his tongue-in-cheek ads. The latest opinion poll released by Indian news group NDTV predicts the BJP will win at least 226 seats and, along with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance, pass the crucial 272 majority mark.

The latest in a series of Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalist commercials targets his opponent, Rahul Gandhi of the incumbent Indian National Congress, and the INC’s management of cost-of-living pressures for everyday citizens. The ad, which begins with an Indian man being brought his lunch, ends in wails and a fit of anger as he realises the cost of his meal has doubled in a week …

“Sir, the prices have gone up and are continuing to rise!” the waiter shrieks.

“Even so, how can it be this expensive?” the man goes on bellowing.

price rises

And that 38-second spot, with the closing slogan “Enough now — we shall deal with it ourselves!”, might have helped Modi and the BJP skyrocket to the front of the pack. Modi’s strong polling comes despite opposition claiming that his association with the violence seen in Gujarat in 2002 makes him unfit to become India’s next prime minister.

A third party, the Aam Aadmi Party, is also reaching out with TV ads. In a direct-to-camera address, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal addresses the viewer, saying he is one with the voter and that gives him a power that the “criminals” of the larger parties don’t have. In words that echo United States President Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign, Kejriwal suggests India is no longer a liveable nation built on honesty and prosperity for the common person …

As the Indonesian presidential election draws closer — it’s set for July — ads are proving crucial. The race has proven so tight the leading party is yet to emerge. With Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono constitutionally barred from a third term in office, the political playing field has been blown wide open for smaller parties to try their luck.

Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle has released some ads promoting him as a “new generation of leader” who can secure the nation’s future. His latest commercial shows groups of Indonesians rejoicing around TV sets as Jokowi is named presidential candidate for the PDI-P because he is a “strong leader” who “dedicates his life”, “brings hope” and “motivates people” …

Jokowi ad

Since 2004, Jokowi has gone from being a local mayor openly opposing Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party to gaining himself the epithet “the Obama of Indonesia”.

And finally, it wouldn’t be an Indonesian political race without a former military strongman. Ex-army lieutenant Prabowo Subianto has used nationalist advertising throughout his campaign to sway voters towards voting for the Gerinda Party. The party’s latest ad shows Prabowo revelling before thousands of supporters and declaring his love for his country, while supporters proclaim his inevitable presidency …

Nicholas Reece, a public policy fellow at the University of Melbourne who is co-ordinating the Election Watch project, says the ads reflect a new sophistication in political campaigning. “In both India and Indonesia, we are seeing a growing level of campaign professionalism. The political parties are engaging in big-time election expenditure, reflecting the emergence of sophisticated Western-style campaigning,” he said.

“These are well-resourced, well-designed campaigns that would cut the mustard in most advanced democratic election campaigns.”

Election Watch brings together academics and experts to analyse major election campaigns around the world. In 2014, they have teamed up with the Australia India Institute and Indonesia Forum to cover elections in two of the world’s biggest democracies.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.