not so smart

How Chinese Android phones became part of India’s political PR spin

August 5, 2013
Obsession
Mobile Web
August 5, 2013

This item has been updated.

Fans of Narendra Modi, an Indian politician, have announced a smartphone branded in his honor. It is called “Smart Namo.” From what we can tell, it might not exist.

Modi—NaMo to his fans—is the elected head of India’s western state of Gujarat. He is also the main opposition party’s putative prime ministerial candidate in elections due early next year. And he is among the most divisive figures in India today. Detractors cite riots in his state in 2002, in which well over 1,000 Muslims were killed while his government did little to help. His supporters argue that the ruling party, the Congress, also has an abysmal record when it comes to riots and that Modi is pretty much all that stands between India and complete economic dysfunction. Modi, they say, understands young people and technology. Indeed, his website features lots of young people and this memorable quote: “India—from a nation of snake charmers to a nation of mouse charmers.”

According to the phone’s website, the Namo in Smart Namo is an acronym for “Narendra Modi and Next Generation Android Mobile Odyssey.” But apart from the phone’s technical specifications and a picture of it running various Chinese apps including Sina Weibo with Chinese characters, the website and Facebook page offer little information.

Indeed, the only external links are to Modi’s personal website and his party’s homepage. The only contact information on the Facebook page brings you back to smartnamo.com. The pictures of the phone posted to the Facebook page come from various websites. The pictures on the Facebook page of the “Smart Namo Saffron 2,” purportedly a specific model of Smart Namo phones, for instance, appear to be the same pictures as those of a phone called the iNEW i6000 that appear on a makeshift Spanish-language chat forum for HTC phones. (Saffron is the official color of Modi’s party and the Hindu right, to which Modi and his party belong). The iNEW is made by Shenzhen Chuangxinqi Communication, trading under the name iNEW, in Shenzhen, China.

It is possible the people behind Smart Namo are simply putting their own brand on white label (aka unbranded) phones. But stealing images off a Spanish user-forum for your Facebook page is perhaps not a mark of authenticity.

The registered owner of the web address Smartnamo.com is also dubious. It is registered to privacyprotect.org, a service that provides a cloak to people who want to own a web address without appearing in public records.

Still, the campaign appears to have some people convinced, including the Wall Street journal, which spoke to somebody named Ammeet Desai, quoting him as Smart Namo’s spokesperson. We at Quartz are more skeptical. We have emailed the addresses listed on smartnamo.com for comment, and will update this post if we get a response. But don’t hold your breath, either for an answer or for the Smart Namo phone.

Update: Desai replied to our queries. He insists that the phone is real and “we are completely valid [sic] company here in China and India.” However, he declined to name the company, its distributors or its partners.

“As of now, we are not in secrecy to hide our profile or our intentions, we are in process [sic] for India company formation and soon our corporate profile, promoters and director details will be made public both online and on Indian government MCA (Ministry of Corporate affairs) website,” he said.

When asked why images from another website appear as representations of the Smart Namo on his Facebook page, Desai said, “In the gadget domain, same images of handset circulate around in blogs, forum and websites.”

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