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Cambridge Analytica’s India connection: IT Minister Prasad accuses Congress of links with the firm

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Reacting swiftly to Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari’s statement calling for investigation by Election Commission to see if any political party had links with disgraced firm Cambridge Analytica, Union minister for Information Technology in Modi government, Ravi Shankar Prasad accused Congress of having links with the concern.

IT minister’s reaction would seem unusual, especially in view of suspicions expressed about BJP’s suspected links with Facebook and its role in emotional manipulation of voters.

Cambridge Analytica (CA) has been in the eye of the storm following an investigation by Britain’s Channel 4 which alleged that the company harvested private data of Facebook users in 2014. It is accused of working with Donald Trump’s election team by harvesting millions of Facebook profiles of US voters and using them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box. This is done by identifying people’s emotional vulnerabilities, likes and dislikes and building a campaign around such issues. Emotional manipulation is the key.

CA is now facing a government search of its London office, questions from US state authorities, and a demand by Facebook that it submit to a forensic audit.

IT minister Prasad, alleging that the Congress committed data theft and manipulated data to win elections, questioned the role of CA in the social media management of Congress and party president Rahul Gandhi.

Manish Tewari’s tweet only said the Election Commission “should enquire/recommend (an) investigation (into) what services & to whom they were offering” these services in India.

Congress party’s social media head Divya Spandana refuted Prasad’s charge. “News about Congress engaged/engaging with Cambridge Analytica is absolutely false,” she tweeted.

Spandana further said the BJP is trying to distract from the controversy over the killing of 30 Indian hostages by ISIS in Iraq.

Prasad accused the Congress party of sharing the private data of Indian citizens with CA. “Will the Congress Party now depend upon data manipulation and data theft to win elections?” he asked. “This is not just a question of Congress Party’s association with a rogue data analysis firm but it is a question of free and fair elections in India and democratic values of our country,” he added.

Prasad also said that though he is in favour of social media, however, its misuse will not be tolerated, especially by foreign firms.

The reaction by Modi’s minister may appear abnormally strong and harsh, in view of the fact that reports mention both BJP and Congress links. Further, other reports suggest a deeper link of BJP with outfits playing the game of analysing, influencing and targeting masses for propaganda and political purposes.

Channel 4’s expose of CA mentioning conversations with its Chief Executive Alexander Nix said that they boasted who boasted that they had successfully executed such operations across the world, and mentioned India as one of the countries where they had been active: “In the meetings, the executives boasted that Cambridge Analytica and its parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) had worked in more than two hundred elections across the world, including Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic, India and Argentina.”

Nix claimed they work under stealth in many countries, using front organisations or subcontractors to prevent their presence from being detected.

In India, SCL partners with a company named Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI), which lists BJP, Congress and Janata Dal (United) as its political clients on its website, said a report in The Indian Express, which said OBI is owned by Amrish Tyagi, son of the senior JD(U) leader K C Tyagi.

When contacted by IE, Tyagi said that OBI had not done any social media or digital work in India, instead it had worked with various political parties on the ground. For the BJP it had done booth profiling for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in 2012. For the same elections, he said his organisation had done an opinion poll for a news channel. For Congress, he said he had done ground surveys for Youth Congress elections in Jharkhand in 2011 and 2012. And for his father’s party, he said he had done ground research in 2010.

An earlier report in the magazine India Legal (IL) with credits to GreatGameIndia, “Did Facebook help Modi create Troll Armies, influence voters in 2014 polls?” delved  deeper into BJP links Facebook and its use.

It mentioned a Bloomberg report that revealed how a secret unit of Facebook helped create troll armies for governments around the world including India for digital propaganda to influence elections. The report said Facebook actively works with political parties and leaders including those who use the platform to stifle opposition — sometimes with the aid of “troll armies” that spread misinformation and extremist ideologies. The initiative is run by a little-known Facebook global government and politics team led from Washington by Katie Harbath, a former Republican digital strategist.

Importantly, the report mentioned that they worked on former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign as well as 2014 Indian elections.

In India (and many other countries as well) the unit’s employees have become de facto campaign workers. In the U.S., the unit embedded employees in Trump’s campaign. In India, the company helped develop the online presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who now has more Facebook followers than any other world leader, said the IL report.

India is arguably Facebook’s most important market recently edging out the US as the company’s biggest. The number of users here is growing twice as fast as in the US, and that is not counting the 200 million people who use the company’s WhatsApp messaging service in India, more than anywhere else on the globe.

By the time of India’s 2014 elections, Facebook had for months been working with several campaigns. Modi relied heavily on Facebook and WhatsApp to recruit volunteers who in turn spread his message on social media. Since his election, Modi’s Facebook followers have risen to 43 million, almost twice Trump’s count.

Within weeks of Modi’s election, Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg both visited India as it was rolling out a critical free internet service that was later curbed due to massive protests. Harbath and her team have also travelled to India, offering a series of workshops and sessions that have trained more than 6,000 government officials.

As Modi’s social media reach grew, his followers increasingly turned to Facebook and WhatsApp to target harassment campaigns against his political rivals. India has become a hotbed for fake news, with one hoax story this year that circulated on WhatsApp leading to mob beatings resulting in several deaths. The nation has also become an increasingly dangerous place for opposition parties and reporters.

However, it’s not just Modi or the Bharatiya Janata Party who have utilized Facebook’s services. The company says it offers the same tools and services to all candidates and governments regardless of political affiliation, and even to civil society groups that may have a lesser voice.

While noting the incidents of mob lynching, the IL report said such incidents would not have had such a rapid and massive effect if the youth had not had access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media that allowed the fake news industry to organise and share made-up videos and information.

More importantly, the report said this takes a totally new dimension now that it has been revealed that Facebook & WhatsApp itself colluded with the establishment in creating such “troll armies” for digital propaganda, resulting directly into violence on Indian soil.

The report called for a thorough investigation into Facebook’s interference in India’s elections.

India News

AAP leader Sanjay Singh accuses BJP of planning an attack on Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal

The AAP leader accused PM Modi and the BJP of being immersed in hatred so much that they are conspiring to kill the Delhi Chief Minister. He added that the Prime Minister Office, BJP and PM Modi will be responsible if anything happens to Kejriwal.

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Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Sanjay Singh on Monday accused BJP of planning an attack on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Singh was addressing a press conference in New Delhi where he said the BJP has been in a state of panic ever since Arvind Kejriwal came out of jail.

He said BJP is now plotting to launch a deadly attack on Arvind Kejriwal. This conspiracy is being conducted directly from the Prime Minister’s Office. A threat of attack on Kejriwal ji has been written at Rajiv Chowk and Patel Nagar Metro stations.

The AAP leader accused PM Modi and the BJP of being immersed in hatred so much that they are conspiring to kill the Delhi Chief Minister. He added that the Prime Minister Office, BJP and PM Modi will be responsible if anything happens to Kejriwal. He pointed out that Kejriwal had not been given insulin for 23 days when he was in judicial custody in Tihar jail.

Singh said a 3 time elected chief minister is being openly threatened with attacks and murder, and nobody is saying anything. He said AAP leaders are writing letters to the Election Commission and if Kejiriwal gets a scratch, the PMO, BJP and PM Modi will be held responsible.

The Supreme Court has given interim bail to the Aam Aadmi Party supremo till June 1 ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in New Delhi. But according to the terms of his bail, the Delhi chief minister cannot make any comments about his role in the Delhi liquor scam case.

 Kejriwal has spent over 50 days in Tihar Jail the Enforcement Directorate arrested him in an excise policy case on March 21, days after the election schedule for the general elections was announced. The bail is applicable until June 1 and Kejriwal has to surrender to authorities on June 2.

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2024 Lok Sabha Elections

36.73% voter turnout recorded till 1 pm in 5th phase of the Lok Sabha elections

36.73% voter turnout recorded till 1 pm in 8 states and UTs; Maharashtra continues to put up a poor show

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Voter turnout at 1 pm was recorded at 36.73% for the 5th phase of the Lok Sabha elections. As this unfolds, significant political showdowns are set to take place across eight states and union territories. Bihar: 34.62%, Jharkhand: 41.89%, Jammu and Kashmir: 34.79%, Maharashtra 27.78%, Ladakh: 52.01%, Uttar Pradesh 39.55%, Odisha 35.31%, West Bengal: 48.41%

Voters in 49 Lok Sabha seats will decide the fate of 695 candidates, with many high-stakes contests featuring political dynasties and senior leaders striving to retain their influence. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is contesting from Raebareli, a seat held by his mother, Sonia Gandhi, since 2004. He is also contesting the election from Wayanad in Kerala. After losing Amethi to Union Minister Smriti Irani in 2019, the Congress has fielded dedicated worker KL Sharma to challenge Irani this time.

Rohini Acharya, daughter of former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, makes her political debut from Saran Lok Sabha seat. Chirag Paswan of the LJP (Ram Vilas) aims to retain the legacy of his late father, Ram Vilas Paswan from Hajipur Lok Sabha seat.

13 out of 48 parliamentary seats in Maharashtra are undergoing elections including high-profile candidates: Dindori: Union Minister Bharati Pravin Pawar (BJP) vs. Bhaskar Bhagare (NCP). Dhule: BJP’s Subhash Ramrao Bhamre vs. Congress’s Shobha Dinesh Bachhav.

Palghar: Hemant Vishnu Savara (BJP) vs. Bharti Kamadi (Shiv Sena UBT). Nashik: Rajabhau Waje (Shiv Sena UBT) vs. Godse Hemant Tukaram (Shiv Sena). This election phase will also serve as a crucial battleground for the factions of Shiv Sena to measure their support among voters.

In Ladakh, an independent candidate is posing a significant challenge to both BJP and Congress contenders. Simultaneous assembly and Lok Sabha polls are taking place in Odisha with the fifth phase, covering 5 Lok Sabha seats and 35 assembly constituencies. Voters in 3 parliamentary Lok Sabha seats — Chatra, Koderma, and Hazaribagh—will cast their votes in this phase.

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2024 Lok Sabha Elections

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his wife cast their votes in Lucknow

In the ongoing Lok Sabha election in Lucknow, Singh is contesting against Samajwadi Party candidate Ravidas Mehrotra. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has fielded Sarwar Malik

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Defence Minister Rajnath Singh along with his wife Savitri Singh, cast their votes on Monday in Lucknow during the 3rd phase of the Lok Sabha elections. Singh, who is the sitting MP and BJP candidate from the Lucknow constituency, appealed to voters all over India to exercise their franchise.

Rajnath Singh said the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) aims to cross 400 seats this time. He did not wish to predict the exact number of seats at this moment. In the ongoing Lok Sabha election in Lucknow, Singh is contesting against Samajwadi Party candidate Ravidas Mehrotra. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has fielded Sarwar Malik. After casting their votes, the couple showed their inked fingers, symbolising their participation in the democratic process.

Rajnath Singh’s son Pankaj Singh an MLA from Noida also cast his vote and called on voters to come out in large numbers He requested all voters to vote in record numbers. The more the voting, the stronger the democracy will be. He urged all young voters and Nari Shakti to come forward in large numbers to cast their votes. He said voting is important to build a self-reliant and developed India.

Earlier, while addressing a public meeting in Lucknow, Rajnath Singh said that he tried to fulfil the dreams of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and had left no stone unturned for the city’s development.

He said they have diligently worked towards realising Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji’s vision for Lucknow, and BJP remains committed to advancing it further in the future.  He said Lucknow currently ranks 10th globally, and BJP aims to elevate it to the 5th position.

There are 5 assembly constituencies under the Lucknow Lok Sabha seat. These include Lucknow West, Lucknow East, Lucknow North, Lucknow Central and Cantt Assembly seats. There are a total of 39.33017 lakh voters in Lucknow Lok Sabha seat.

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