Cambridge Analytica row: Data firm managed Rahul Gandhi’s campaign, alleges BJP; Cong chief says talk about Iraq killingshttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/government-invented-story-on-congress-data-theft-to-divert-attention-from-iraq-deaths-rahul-gandhi-5107066/

Cambridge Analytica row: Data firm managed Rahul Gandhi’s campaign, alleges BJP; Cong chief says talk about Iraq killings

A political war of words triggered between the Congress and the BJP after Prasad accused the main opposition party of having links with Cambridge Analytica, the Facebook associate under the scanner.

Government invented story on Congress, data theft to divert attention from Iraq deaths: Rahul Gandhi
Congress President Rahul Gandhi also accused the government of baiting the media. (Source: Express photo by Anil Sharma/File)

Targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on their stand on the Facebook data breach, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said the ruling government was inventing the story to “divert” people’s attention from the killing of the 39 Indians in Iraq as it was caught “lying” in the matter. He also accused the government of baiting the media.

What Rahul tweeted

“Problem: 39 Indians dead; Govt on the mat, caught lying. Solution: Invent story on Congress & Data Theft. Result: Media networks bite bait; 39 Indians vanish from radar. Problem solved,” Rahul Gandhi tweeted. Subsequently, Congress communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala today hit out at PM Modi and Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad saying, “Hitler had an associate called Goebbels, Modi ji has an associate called Ravi Shankar Prasad. BJP Govt has become a manufacturer of fake news. Sabse bade data chor macha rahe hain sabse zyada shor (The biggest data thiefs are making the most noise).”

Soon after the data leaks scandal broke out, both Congress and BJP accused each other of using the services of data firm Cambridge Analytica to influence elections in India.

BJP continues to attack Congress

Reiterating its allegations of Congress’s links to political data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica (CA), the BJP on Thursday claimed that the firm was involved in Rahul Gandhi’s social media campaign and there had been meetings too in this regard.

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The BJP also questioned the silence of the Congress president for more than five months over media reports that claimed his party had roped in CA as ‘Brahmashtra’ to counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019.

“The report in this regard was first published on October 9, 2017 and the party maintained silence until I raised the issue on Wednesday. They denied the allegations when they found themselves in trouble after the issue was brought to the fore,” Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said at a press conference.

The minister, accepting full responsibility, said that CA had been managing the social media campaign for Rahul Gandhi and there had been meetings also in this connection.

“The Congress cannot run away from this fact. If the Congress maintains a conspicuous silence on such an important news of the involvement of a dubious social media company and does not counter it, then I am sorry. They don’t have any right to run the country,” he said.

The Congress denied the allegation and claimed that the BJP and its current ruling ally in Bihar, JD(U), had engaged the data firm in elections, including in 2014.

Though Prasad quoted news reports that Cambridge Analytica may have been hired by the Congress last year, the international data analytics firm has no mention of the Congress party.

Prasad, meanwhile, also delivered a sharp warning to the social media giant, saying the government would take “stringent action”, including “summoning” its CEO Mark Zuckerberg to India, in case of any data theft of Indians.

What is the controversy

According to reports, a Facebook associate was involved in a massive breach of user information to allegedly influence polls in the US and the UK. The firm’s services were used in the Bihar Assembly Elections in 2010 and the India partner of CA’s parent company allegedly worked with three political parties – BJP, Congress and JD(U).

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had in a statement in Parliament on Tuesday said that the 39 Indians who were kidnapped by the terror outfit ISIS in June 2016, were killed. Several including the Opposition leaders and the victim’s families questioned why the government kept them in the dark, while, others sought refuge in grief and demanded assistance from the Centre.

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The opposition parties Tuesday slammed the NDA government for making an announcement in Parliament before intimating their families, calling it “insensitive and unpardonable.”

(With agencies inputs)