Indian folk singer Maithili Thakur thought she was successful, with millions following her Hindu devotional tunes on social media — but then Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent her popularity into the stratosphere.

With India's marathon general elections set to start on April 19, critics say Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has co-opted the vast youth fan bases of hugely influential social media stars — in fields ranging from music to culture, and fashion to fitness — to push their political message.

Thakur was among 24 influencers handed prizes last month at the first government-organized National Creators Awards to promote "storytellers of a confident, assertive New India."