New Delhi, Aug 18: Seeking to turn the tables on the Congress on the controversy surrounding Facebook and its WhatsApp messaging service, the BJP on Tuesday sought to link the social media platform with the opposition Congress and even the Trinamool Congress in the past.
On Tuesday, the Congress held a press conference wherein it continued to attack the BJP on the Facebook issue by claiming its senior executive Ankhi Das was in contact with senior BJP leaders and MPs in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
On the other hand, the BJP brought up the name of Congress Spokesman and former Union Minister Manish Tewari in the whole affair, apart from people like Vijaya Moorthy and Kavitha KK, to suggest the platform’s alleged past affiliations to the Congress and even the TMC.
BJP’s Information Technology Cell chief Amit Malviya told IANS that Vijaya Moorthy, a part of the Public Policy team in Facebook, had worked for the Congress in the past.
In fact, he claimed, she had worked in a “nationwide electoral project” of the Youth Congress. She had a stint in an “NGO in socio-political space”, as per her LinkedIn profile, between January 2012 and April 2015.
Malviya also alleged that Kavitha KK, whose LinkedIn profile also shows her to be working for the social media giant, has also worked for a Trinamool Congress MP in the past.
In fact, Kavitha’s LinkedIn profile mentions working as Principal Policy Associate for TMC leader Derek O’Brien between 2015 and 2017. However, it is pertinent to mention that according to the same account, she also happened to have worked as a legislative assistant to BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi between 2014 and 2015. But her association with Lekhi was through PRS Legislative Research, unlike with the TMC MP, with whom she worked directly, or so says her LinkedIn account.
Regardless of Manish Tewari’s denial, Malviya claimed he had worked for Atlantic Council in the past.
“Tewari was appointed a distinguished senior fellow of Atlantic Council, which in turn was entrusted with the job of rooting out political propaganda from Facebook. Like it or not, it’s a fact,” the BJP’s IT Cell chief asserted.
He claimed that in the run-up to the 2019 general elections, there were at least 700 Facebook pages aligned with the BJP’s core ideology, some even running into million followers, but were taken down.
IANS came across a press release dated January 9, 2017 by Atlantic Council that quoted its then South Asia Center Director Bharath Gopalaswamy as saying: “We are delighted to welcome Manish Tewari to our team. We are eager to draw on his expertise from his years of service to the government of India, and he will be an invaluable addition to the South Asia Center team as we look to deepen our programming on India and the subcontinent.”
Speaking to IANS, Tewari said, “It is unfortunate that half lies, downright falsehoods and insinuations are being deployed by the BJP when the WSJ story has caught them like a strartled deer in the headlights of truth. My four tweets in the morning exposed those lies in its entirety and put the record straight.”
Tewari also insisted these are “smear campaigns”. He had tweeted earlier in the day saying, “I was Distinguished Senior Fellow with the South Asia Centre of Atlantic Council from 1st Jan 2017 till 31st December 2019. I was succeeded by Jay Panda thereafter. Distinguished Senior Fellow does not mean Board.”
BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar brought up Congress’ alleged connection with Cambridge Analytica to hit back at the opposition party.
“They (Congress) were recently cosying up to Cambridge Analytica and Facebook to try and do hit jobs on the BJP, as recently as 2018.”
The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica was a data leak in early 2018, whereby millions of Facebook users’ personal data was harvested without consent by the firm, primarily for political advertising.
Though Congress had tried to distance itself, a Congress poster in then Cambridge Analytica CEO’s London office came out in the public domain, leaving the party baffled.
Meanwhile, even as Congress leader Pawan Khera tried to make out a case against the BJP on the whole issue, Malviya furnishing more examples from the past to connect Khera’s part with the social media company.
He claimed that Ajit Mohan, MD of Facebook-India, had worked with the Planning Commission during the UPA era. He alleged that Sidharth Mazumdar, another Facebook employee who ‘worked in the firm’s Public policy team’, had worked with Ahmed Patel, a close aide of Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi.
With political recriminations on the issue likely to continue for some more time after the fresh salvos by the ruling party, it seems that the Congress has as much, if not more, to answer as the BJP.