This app lets you 'review' politicians in India

Indian ministers
With over a billion people in the country, it's always been difficult to gauge the public's mood in India, as far as elections are concerned. Take the 2014 elections for instance. While everyone had an inkling that the BJP would take the cake, no one expected the sweeping victory the party pulled off.

But what if you could marry voting with one of the fastest growing sectors in the country? Would that help gauge the public's reactions better?

An app called Neta aims to do just that. Created by Pratham Mittal, a Wharton alumnus, the app lets you "review" politicians, just like you do Uber drivers. The idea is to create a ‘Zomato of politicians’. Mittal argues that ratings on apps like Zomato and Yelp are major drivers for service quality in a restaurant, just like Uber drivers care about the rating you give to them. So, why shouldn't politicians?

Mittal and his team have created a database of constituencies in the country, including the politicians who are competing from these places.

After signing up, users can find their constituency using the pin code and cast a vote for a neta (Hindi for politician). While this is not an official vote, it helps gauge what users in a particular area think of their leaders. The votes can be changed at will, which means if a politician isn't performing after an election, the public can change their vote.

(Neta app)

Mittal says he wants the app to be a watchdog for politicians in the country. The votes are displayed in the form of a leaderboard, that ranks politicians based on the votes they receive.

There's also a separate area for discussions and polls. The app allows users to run polls and add issues in their area. That gets even more feedback from users, providing better insight into what's happening on the ground.

In the 2014 elections, 540 million Indians voted in the central elections. That was 66.4% of the electorate, up 8.4% from the 58% turnout in the 2009 elections. Yet, India doesn't have an easy method to gauge the public's mood.

Once the app is launched across the country, Mittal says he can take the data to political parties and sell it to them. His app has 100,000 downloads on the Play Store right now, most of which were acquired during the recent Karnataka elections. It can also be accessed through the web, while Mittal's team also sends mass WhatsApp messages to people and makes IVR-driven calls to get votes from users. In fact, Mittal claims that through the data in his app, he was able to predict the eventually hung assembly beforehand. He says he has received over 2.5 million votes on the platform so far, despite only being in Ajmer, Alwar and Karnataka.

Fake votes

While that's an impressive number, there seems to be a very real chance of fake votes being cast. To battle that, the app takes the user's phone number when signing up. It uses this to tap into telecom operators' databases and get your name. It then tallies this to voter databases and decides which constituency you belong to.

There's also Aadhaar. Since most numbers today are being attached to Aadhaar cards, the app taps into the UIDAI's APIs to verify users using their Aadhaar numbers. It doesn't actually see your Aadhaar number here but uses the mobile number and name to verify what constituency you belong to.

Mittal says that his app will still have a 4% margin for error, but argues that this margin won't matter when it's reaching millions of users.

What's the end game?

While Mittal's goal is to make his app a watchdog, he has business opportunities in the analytics he can sell to political parties. But more importantly, he wants to sell this data to media outlets, making him a direct competitor to election research firms like Cvoter, Today's Chanakya and more.

Further, Mittal says that he can also access user data if he wants to, but he's wary of doing so in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. He says he can extrapolate caste and religion from a person's name, while data about birth and some other information can be obtained from the election commission.

Having started less than six months ago, this is a long-term plan. The app is yet to launch in all cities, though databases are being built for all of them. The hook here is in transparency, the fact that the votes come from real users. Mittal’s users aren’t obtained from Facebook ads alone, he says he sends real people down to villages etc. to put the app directly on people’s phones.
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