As India geared up for its election season, a familiar refrain echoed across the political landscape: The popular slogan used by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi namely “Modi ki guarantee” (Modi’s guarantee) started to trend. Intended as Modi’s personal guarantee to the voters, it was also intended to depict BJP as united while projecting the opposition alliance as divided.

However, alongside the BJP’s campaign, another entity joined the fray, albeit with a strikingly similar message: Popular phrases include “Modi sarkar ki guarantee” (Modi government’s guarantee). These advertisements with phrases similar to BJP’s poll slogans were placed not by the party but by the Indian tax payer through CBC, the Central Bureau of Communication, the government’s advertising wing.

As expected, there were accusations that these CBC advertisements were indeed a misuse of tax payers money to fund the campaign of the ruling party and the Indian National Congress filed a complaint to the Election Commission of India (ECI). A piece by Al Jazeera highlighted this with a report of how more money was spent by the CBC than even the BJP in Google ad spendings towards a time just before the elections.

Opponents claim that such appeals, which are similar to those made by the BJP, undermine the neutrality of state structures in preventing manipulation in the course of the voting. This has led to several questions being raised to do with partisanship especially given the fact that the CBC has been incredibly generous in airing ads that are closely associated with those of the ruling party.

Although cases of using government facilities and resources for political vendalism is not rare in India, the magnitude and methods adopted in this regard has raised many eyebrows. Opposition accused the current administration of taking it to a new level by using state resource to fund image building efforts, according to transparency activists.

The growth of the CBC’s budget, combined with the new rules that let the station advertise on the Internet, gave it a solid basis for its broad Internet campaign. While the government justified the increase arguing that it was in proportion to the economic growth, opponents perceive it as an attempt to support the ruling party’s electoral campaign.

The growth in the share of digital ad expenditure shows that politics in India is changing with online mediums gaining significance. But, it also points to policy loopholes that might allow the government to manipulate ad spending for nefarious purposes.

Attempts at regulation like the Committee on Content Regulation of Government Advertisements have been accused of being toothless and easily manipulatable by the government. On the other hand, the Election Commission of Pakistan, which is supposed to implement the guidelines, has been accused of partiality by the opposition parties, thereby making it questionable to hear their complaints.

With the Indian electoral system in the spotlight, questions can be raised regarding the biasness and competency of the democratic system. As the ruling party continues to dominate the electoral landscape with a huge majority, doubts arise concerning the effectiveness of the mechanisms of accountability in a one-party democracy. This is especially so because as the country goes through its democratic process, election integrity is crucial in preserving democracy.