These days, a lot of mud-slinging is going on between the Congress and the BJP over their clandestine links with the London -based data analysing company Cambridge Analytica and its Ghaziabad-based Indian affiliate Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI).
According to theWire, both the parties – using media reports and other publicly available information – traded allegations of data theft and of the other party having used Cambrige Analytica’s services to swing elections in the country. The objective, obviously, was to manipulate public opinion and win elections.
The Indian firm, incidentally, is managed by Amrish Tyagi, the son of Janata Dal (United) leader KC Tyagi.
Of course, as expected, the Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala denied having received any services from the data harvester, but he accused the BJP of having done the same.
The web portal of the Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI),however, mentions that not only the BJP but also the Congress and the Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar are their clients. Ovleno's website has since been suspended.
Mr Tyagi, in an interview to NDTV, said his firm had worked for the BJP in the 2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, and had also done work for the Youth Congress in Jharkhand between 2010 and 2011.
According to NDTV, Cambridge Analytica's website says the company provided its services during the Bihar election in 2010 to a political party in India. "Our client achieved a landslide victory, with over 90 per cent of the total seats targeted by CA being won," it says. The Janata Dal United-BJP alliance had swept those elections.
Amrish Tyagi, the 39-year-old head of OBI, also admits to working on a number of political campaigns for BJP leaders including Rajnath Singh. Moreover, the publicly available LinkedIn page of one of the directors of Ovleno, Himanshu Sharma, states that he "managed four election campaigns successfully for the ruling party BJP" and "achieved the target of mission 272".
The CA website further went on to say that it helped in "confidentially maintaining the database to be provided constituency wise to BJP candidate(s) as an additional support for national elections and state elections of Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi".
First the audacity of the BJP’s Law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in warning Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who had to suffer the bear hugs of PM Modi during the latter’s visit to the Silicon Valley to pay homage to the Facebook founder and promote himself through “his answers to a set of pre-determined questions asked by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a Q&A held at the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park.
Warned the powerful IT minister:
“Mr Mark Zuckerberg, you better note the observation of the IT minister of India,” Prasad said, speaking of himself in the third person like Julius Caesar.
“We welcome the FB profile [sic] in India, but if any data theft of Indians is done through the collusion of FB system, it shall not be tolerated. We have got stringent power in the IT Act, we shall use it, including summoning you in India,” Prasad warned.
It hardly needs to be mentioned that Mr Prasad flayed Congress for having emulated what the BJP has been doing with the CA.
According to The Wire, Prasad cited multiple media reports over the last year, and alleged that the Congress had engaged Cambridge Analytica for the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
“The Congress must explain if it has engaged in data trade with Cambridge Analytica,” the minister said at a press conference…..Will the Congress now depend on data manipulation and theft to woo voters?
According to The Wire again, While Prasad is right that there were at least a couple of media reports in 2017 that indicated the Congress was in talks with CA, he fails to note in the last few days, multiple other reports (including The Wire) have indicated that top-level officials of Cambridge Analytica met with both the BJP and Congress for potential 2019 general election contracts.
The Wire further says: If the law minister is willing to go on the basis of anonymously-sourced media reports, it would only be fair to include what all media reports have said:
The IT minister also conveniently leaves out the fact that the India partner of Cambridge Analytica, Ghaziabad-based Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI) lists the BJP as a client on its website (as the picture above shows), and has employees who have worked on elections for BJP leaders.
IT minister’s “very stern observation” against Mark Zuckerberg and Cambridge Analytica
As the war of words raged between the Congress and the BJP, media questioned the IT minister whether a probe would be ordered over the role of the CA and its affiliate in influencing the course of elections in India, the lawyer minister made a “ very stern observation” that that the telecom regulator TRAI could look at any specific complaints.
“We have got [a] very robust mechanism available, we will look into it. But today, this very stern observation I gave that let my warning be heard across the Atlantic far away in California,” IT minister said.
People of India know fully well how strong and powerful government of India is to lay its hands on Mark Zuckerberg of the United States of America, or the Cambridge Analytica of Great Britain.
And so, rather than dispatching Indian police all the way to the US to pick up Mark Zuckerberg for questioning, “a logical first course of action would be to simply question OBI CEO Amrish Tyagi, whose father [KC Tyagi of the Janata Dal (United)] belongs a political party that is part of the ruling NDA.”
The strongest statement on this came from BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, who emphasised that a probe would be launched.
“[The] government of the day is not going to take it lightly. Government is of course going to investigate and truth will come to the fore. Rahul Gandhi should come forward and answer the questions which have been put to him,” Patra said.
Why Patra and the BJP assume the ruling party is not similarly obliged to come forward and answer the questions that the Cambridge Analytica scandal raises about its own behaviour is not clear.—The Wire