The BJP and the Congress today sparred over hiring the services of controversial data mining firm Cambridge Analytica, with the ruling party accusing its rival of “data theft” to woo voters ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls, a claim the opposition party rejected.
The Congress also hit back alleging that the “BJP’s factory of fake news has produced one more fake product”, and accused it of hiring the firm’s services in several elections, including in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The trading of charges between the two parties came following the Facebook’s admission last week that Cambridge Analytica used data that had been collected from 50 million users without their consent, an act of breach of privacy.
BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad, also the Union law and information technology minister, cited several media reports which said the company would work for Congress chief Rahul Gandhi ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls, and asked how many times Gandhi had met Cambridge’s now sacked CEO Alexander Nix.
Claiming that the illegal use of people’s data from social media could turn out to be the Congress’ “biggest scam”, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said the government would launch a probe into the matter.
“Stealing data from social media is your (Congress) weapon. Cambridge Analytica is now Congress analytica,” Patra alleged.
Prasad alleged that the firm had been accused of using “sex, sleaze and fake news” to influence elections and asked if the Congress too planned to walk the same path. He asked Gandhi to explain the company’s role in his social media outreach.
Rejecting the allegations categorically, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said neither his party nor its president has used and hired the services of Cambridge Analytica.
“The BJP’s factory of fake news has produced one more fake product today. It appears that fake press conferences, fake agendas and fake spins and fake statements have become the everyday character of the BJP and its ‘lawless’ Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad,” he told reporters.
Claiming that Cambridge Analytica and another Indian firm OBI, run by the son of a NDA leader, compliment each other’s businesses, Surjewala said their achievements include managing four election campaigns successfully for the ruling BJP.
He claimed that Cambridge’s local partner OBI talked of having achieved ‘target 272+’ (in 2014), providing constituency-wise database to BJP candidates and of extending support to it in national elections and state polls in Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi.
“It is not me who is saying so; it is Cambridge Analytica which is saying so. And they have partners in India whose businesses complement each other… The whole problem is when you dish out lies from a fake factory and fake products; this is how you get struck,” he claimed.
Refuting the Congress’ allegations that it was the BJP which had hired the firm during previous elections, Patra said over 1000 websites and 10,000 individuals have claimed to have a role in the party’s win in 2014 polls. “We have nothing to hide,” he said.
“The Congress must explain if it has engaged in data trade with Cambridge Analytica,” the BJP spokesperson asked.
Citing a media report which said the firm’s services could be the Congress’ “brahmastra” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the next elections, he claimed the firm was hired to “re-launch” Gandhi.
Prasad at his press conference also noted that the number of Gandhi’s followers on Twitter had shot up recently and wondered if it was due to the services of the firm that he achieved this “fake popularity”.
“Will the Congress now depend on data manipulation and theft to woo voters? We have all seen how the party has tried to divide the society in Gujarat just in order to win an election. We are seeing what they are doing in Karnataka. This is straight out of the Cambridge Analytica playbook,” he claimed.