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In ‘Digital India,’ Government Hands Out Free Phones to Win Votes

RAIPUR, India — Forget the old American campaign slogan of a chicken in every pot, or the Indian politician’s common pledge to put rice in every bowl.Here in the state of Chhattisgarh, the chief minister, Raman Singh, has promised a smartphone in every home — and he is using the government-issued devices to reach voters as he campaigns in legislative elections that conclude on Tuesday.Chain Sahu, a mother of two who cooks at a school on the outskirts of Mr. Singh’s district in Rajnandgaon, said her free phone rang last Sunday, just before her village voted. The caller, who claimed to be from “the Raman government,” asked…

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In India, Facebook’s WhatsApp Plays Central Role in Elections

MANGALORE, India — Waving a giant saffron flag, Pranav Bhat last week joined a political rally for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India’s ruling party here in this sweltering port city on the southwest coast.Milling on a vast field with his college buddies, Mr. Bhat, 18, cheered for Mr. Modi and his Hindu-oriented Bharatiya Janata Party, which was trying to wrest control of Karnataka state from the more secular Indian National Congress in legislative elections.Yet the most intense political campaigning was not taking place on the streets. Instead, the action was happening on WhatsApp, a messaging service owned by Facebook that has about 250 million users in…

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