Cambridge Analytica row: BJP's hasty accusations against Congress betrays its desperation; blame game may backfire

The BJP's stand on the Cambridge Analytica data theft controversy is a perfect display of stamping your foot on an axe. Without any rhyme or reason, it has needlessly stoked a controversy that may ultimately end up hurting the saffron party.

Most of us Indians had not even heard of the controversial data theft. Even those who had were aware only of its role in manipulating the United States presidential election in 2016. But, for some reason, IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad grabbed the issue floating around in the US and Europe and let it loose in India.

First, he accused the Congress of hiring the company accused of mining personal data in the US for manipulating polls in India, without an iota of evidence. Then, he went on to warn Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg against influencing elections in India.

BJP Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Agencies

Union law minister Ravi Shankar
Prasad and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Agencies

It takes an exceptional amount of immaturity to cast stones at others while living in a glass house. With revelation after revelation pointing at the BJP's link with the Indian partner of Cambridge Analytics, Prasad's hasty decision to shoot the Congress with the data theft bullet is rebounding on his own party.

According to NDTV, the BJP may have actually been a beneficiary of data mining by Strategic Communications Laboratories, the Indian partner of Cambridge Analytica's parent firm based in the UK. Avneesh Rai, co-founder of the Indian firm, told the news channel that Alexander Nix, the disgraced CEO of the UK-based data gathering firm may have "plotted to defeat the Congress party ahead of India's 2014 parliamentary elections." Rai said Nix mined data to defeat the Congress for a client. But he did not reveal the identity of the client.

Rai also revealed that OBI, another company with links to Cambridge Analytics, had worked for the BJP in the 2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. He said the firm had supplied booth-wise age and caste data to the party.

Interestingly, OBI had listed BJP, JD (U) and Congress among its biggest Indian clients. There are also allegations that I&B minister Smriti Irani was following Cambridge Analytics on Twitter. Amit Malviya, head of the BJP’s media cell, had called Cambridge Analytics a "powerful tool."

Why exactly did the BJP dash towards the controversy, crashing into it headlong? Did Prasad import the controversy without knowing about his own party's alleged links to the data theft? Or, was it a case of accusing the rival before the rivals point fingers at the BJP?

The BJP's strategy to unnecessarily Indianise the controversy is perhaps symptomatic of its impatience and frustration. For the past few weeks, it has been on the backfoot because of negative news flow. First, the Congress successfully managed to lay the blame for the Nirav Modi scam at the BJP's doorsteps. Whatever be the BJP's argument, public opinion by and large favours the Congress allegation that the Narendra Modi government, that promised to be a chowkidaar, watched in silence as Nirav looted public banks and disappeared from India.

Yet another setback was the unfortunate killing of 39 Indians in Mosul by the Islamic State. The revelation was contrary to the government’s initial claims that the workers were safe. With the truth now coming out of Mosul graves, families of the victims have accused the government of lying to them.

Politically too it has been a rough week for the BJP. Its fracas with trusted alliance partner TDP and the loss in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Bihar bypolls has eroded the image of the party's invincibility. It seems, the BJP was eager to turn the tables on the Congress by latching on to the data theft controversy. But, in its haste to run down the Congress, it has drawn attention to its own links with the controversial company.

Finger-wagging, lobbing dirt in the air in the hope that it will stick on rivals and accusing them of doing business with controversial firms – that allegedly partnered the BJP – are poor strategies indicative of restlessness in the party. They reveal a desperation to attack rivals, even if it leads to a PR harakiri.

Somebody needs to remind the BJP that it is no longer in Opposition. If it has any evidence of data theft in India, if it seriously believes that Cambridge Analytica manipulated elections for the Congress, it should go ahead and launch a detailed probe. Also, it should come clean on its own links with the firm's Indian partners.

Unless it does this, the BJP's stand would only lead to suspicions of its own complicity and, thus, the lack of courage to take decisive action.


Updated Date: Mar 23, 2018 14:41 PM

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