India’s main opposition party has become thoroughly embroiled in the Cambridge Analytica (CA) voter-manipulation scandal.
On March 27, the whistleblower in the case told a committee of the British parliament that CA had done “all kinds of projects” in India and that he believed their client was the Congress party.
“I believe their client was Congress but I know that they have done all kinds of projects both regional…I don’t remember a national project, but I know regionally, I mean, India…is so big that, you know, one state can be, you know, as big as Britain,” Christopher Wylie, a Canadian whistleblower who was the former director of research at CA, said while deposing in front of the British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.
“But they do have offices there (in India). They do have staff there. I believe I have some documentation on India which I can also provide if that’s the case,” he added.
The Indian National Congress has, however, denied Wylie’s claim.
Wylie’s deposition is part of an ongoing investigation against the London-based company that allegedly harvested the data of 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge.
Reports had earlier suggested that CA had approached both the BJP and the Congress for the 2014 general elections as well as the upcoming 2019 polls, but nothing had worked out.
Even though India was so far not officially named in the scam, it has caused a furore in the country. The fear of Indians’ data being manipulated stems from the fact that the country has Facebook’s largest user base of over 241 million.
On March 21, Indian law and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had warned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg of action if his company had allowed any data theft from the country. “We have got stringent power under the IT Act. We shall use it, including summoning you in India,” Prasad had said.
India and CA
CA’s website mentions only one project that the company has undertaken in India:
Research & Communications Campaign
CA was contracted to undertake an in-depth electorate analysis for the Bihar assembly election in 2010. The core challenge was to identify the floating/swing voters for each of the parties and to measure their levels (of) electoral apathy, a result of the poor and unchanging condition of the state after 15 years of incumbent rule.
In addition to the research phase, CA were tasked to organise the party base at the village level by creating a communication hierarchy to increase supporter motivation. Our client achieved a landslide victory, with over 90% of total seats targeted by CA being won.
In this Bihar election, an alliance led by Janata Dal United (JDU) leader Nitish Kumar had won with a four-fifths majority.
Meanwhile, CA’s parent firm, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), operates in India through a local partner, Ovlene Business Intelligence (OBI), owned by Amrish Tyagi, son of senior JDU leader KC Tyagi.
SCL also has an India arm called Strategic Communication Laboratories Private Limited, The Print reported last week.
Incorporated in November 2011, the company’s registered office is in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, and it has four directors: Amrish Kumar Tyagi, Alexander James Ashburner Nix, Alexander Waddington Oakes, and Avneesh Kumar Rai. According to government records, the company’s business includes “legal, accounting, book-keeping and auditing activities; tax consultancy; market research and public opinion polling; business and management consultancy.”
Even as India featured just once in Wylie’s deposition, and he did not share any details of CA’s modus operandi in the country, he has doled out enough arsenal for a political war of words.
Already, on March 21, Congress communications-in-charge Randeep Surjewala had said that home minister Rajnath Singh had used CA’s services in 2009.
Now, after Congress’s name appearing in the whistleblower’s deposition, it will only become uglier.