Govt cooked up Congress role in data row Rahul Gandhi

New Delhi: In his first response to the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data scandal, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday accused the government of “inventing” stories about the Congress’ involvement to divert attention from the controversy following minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj’s statement on the killing of 39 Indians in Iraq. In a tweet, the Congress president also faulted the media for “biting the bait”.

“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,” tweeted Mr Gandhi.

The Congress and the BJP have been locked in a bitter verbal duel since Wednesday after it emerged that the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica (CA) — a London-based data firm accused of accessing data of millions of Facebook users to help elect US President Donald Trump in 2016 — could have links to political parties in India.

Reiterating th BJP’s allegations against the Congress and Mr Gandhi, that they had used the services of Cambridge Analytica, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said it took almost five months for the Opposition party to deny media reports that raised the issue. Mr Prasad said that the pattern of the Congress’ campaign in Gujarat suggested that the party had “used and abused” the services of Cambridge Analytica.

Rejecting Mr Gandhi’s charge that the BJP was levelling false allegations against the Congress and linking Cambridge Analytica to it in order to deflect attention from the death of 39 Indians in Mosul, Mr Prasad wondered why that the Opposition party had maintained a “conspicuous silence” on such an important news of the role of a dubious company’s involvement with it till now.

On questions about reports that an Indian company, which was Cambridge Analytica’s partner, might have worked for the BJP and its allies as well, the Union law and justice minister said there is no authentic confirmation of any Indian partner of the company working for the BJP or its allies.

Mr Prasad, however, sought to make a distinction between Cambridge Analytica and its partner, saying the former has been accused of using honey trap and data theft.

The Congress hit back saying the BJP government has become a “manufacturer of fake news” and compared Mr Prasad with German dictator Hitler’s associate Joseph Goebbels and called him a “minister for lies (jhooth)”.

Congress communications chief Randeep Singh Surjewala said, “Hitler had an associate called Goebbels, Modiji has an associate called Ravi Shankar Prasad. The BJP government has become a manufacturer of fake news. Sabse bade data chor macha rahe hain sabse zyada shor (The biggest data thieves are making the most noise).”

The Congress officially denied ever using the services of CA or any of its affiliates either itself or for its party president.

Mr Surjewala demanded that the BJP should come clean whether they used the services of CA or its Indian arm, Oveleno Business Intelligence (OBI) OBI, while showing a tweet of former head of BJP IT cell Arvind Gupta who is currently the CEO of “MyGov” portal of Government of India.

The tweet, according to the Congress, praised Cambridge Analytica. “Cambridge Analytica is a powerful tool and when used correctly can provide deep insight and fine tune communication and outreach strategy,” the tweet reads.

The Congress also said that Union information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani was following CA.

Releasing screenshots, Mr Surjewala also showed an editorial on the US presidential elections by the son of JD(U) leader K.C. Tyagi’s son, Amrish Tyagi, who is the owner of OBI, the Indian arm of CA.