The man in the eye of the Cambridge Analytica storm in India does not seem to have proof for any his earlier claims. And he is now contradicting himself.
New Delhi: From time to time, the Indian media sees news reports of students claiming NASA has selected them as research scientists. Soon after the student becomes a celebrity in his small town, the lie is caught — he had made it all up.
In one case in Kerala, a 27-year-old carried out the NASA fiction for two years, with the Malayalam and English media both eating out of his hands. One day, this man, Arun, was allegedly invited by home minister Rajnath Singh, who then told PM Modi about this talented boy, making space for another story about how Arun will soon meet PM Modi, and then one about his private meeting with the Prime Minister, and so on and so forth.
He got a job with Bhutan University as a lecturer by showing news clippings of his achievement. Nobody had any reason to doubt reports in reputed publications such as The Hindu.
Amrish Tyagi, son of JD(U) leader K.C. Tyagi, seems to be to the world of political consultants what those Indian students are to NASA: a wannabe creating a web of misperceptions. Like the NASA-aspiring students, his core skill seems to have been to play the media with fictional stories about his associations and achievements. It helped that his father was a Rajya Sabha member.
He is a self-appointed psephologist, a political consultant who claims to have worked for everybody from the Aam Aadmi Party to Donald Trump, and to be a business partner of Cambridge Analytica. Except that he does not seem to have proof for any of this. What’s even better, he has now issued a statement that contradicts a lot of what he’s been telling the media.
Was he a partner of Cambridge Analytica or not?
In a tame press statement issued Thursday, Tyagi claimed his company, Ovleno Business Intelligence, “was never associated with CA and it has not undertaken any job of any nature for and on behalf of CA”.
Until just the other day, his father had been saying that his son had “only a work relation” with CA, not financial.
“We are partners,” Amrish Tyagi said of Cambridge Analytica to the Hindustan Times on 19 March. The story claimed Cambridge Analytica had approached both the BJP and the Congress for the 2019 elections. Was this Tyagi’s way of creating a buzz around himself to get clients?
But in Thursday’s press statement, he said, “There was no agreement with CA giving exclusive control over business in India either with OBI or in my individual capacity…”
This was not the first time a story like this was put out by him. In July 2017, he told the Navbharat Times that Alexander Nix, the Cambridge Analytica CEO, would be visiting India from 19 to 21 July.
The newspaper quoted him as saying (rough translation from Hindi): “It is confirmed that Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica will soon visit Delhi. He will be here for three days and meet various politicians.”
Just last week, he gave The Economic Times an interview in which he even defended Cambridge Analytica’s controversial use of big data. Now, suddenly, he says he had nothing whatsoever to do with Cambridge Analytica or the Trump campaign.
So, which was the fabrication —all the talk of representing Cambridge Analytica in India, or what he’s saying now?
ThePrint reached Amrish Tyagi for comment on questions that had arisen from his press statement Thursday. He responded by sending the same press statement again but did not answer any of the questions that were emailed.
Did he work on the Donald Trump campaign?
In his press statement, he claimed he went to the US in September 2016 just to attend a conference organsied by Cambridge Analytica.
The statement said: “I would like to put it on record that CA held a summit (CONCORDIA) in New York in September 2016 in which experts from various fields from across the globe were invited. On their invitation, I had also participated in the summit in capacity of a psephelogist. Accordingly I shared my experience, opinion and views on the topics being discussed in the summit. It may not be out of place to mention that there were absolutely no financial transactions whatsoever except to get experience in the field.”
But, around the same time, he went around telling the Indian media he had gone to the US to work on the Trump campaign and help him get Indian-American votes!
“My job is to find out the psyche of the Asian community (in America), their demands, expectations and fears, and convey them to Trump’s team. We will also design campaign messages to draw the community in, and create databases for Trump’s campaign,” he told The Telegraph in September 2016.
He went on to say: “Some of Trump’s aides had come to India in 2011 and were impressed with how we work here. Later, they approached us for this job and we agreed.” We know who these people were — Alexander Nix and Alexander Oakes of Cambridge Analytica.
In an article he wrote for The Economic Times in November 2016, just before polling took place in the US, he claimed credit for Trump’s outreach to the Indian-American community. The article claimed he was working with Cambridge Analytica, not once but thrice.
“Based on our brainstorming sessions, Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix rolled out a series of suggestions. Trump wooing Indian voters with an advertisement in Hindi, his daughter-in-law Lara celebrating Diwali at a Hindu temple in the key swing state of Virginia, and Trump saying, ‘The Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House’, were all part of a strategy to reach out to the Indian-American community,” Tyagi wrote.
It’s a mystery why a man who was so influential in getting Trump desi votes isn’t a celebrity in Delhi. Is it because all he did was attend a conference — or, who knows, he just went for a self-learning trip?
Did he work for any political party at all?
Tyagi’s statement Thursday said while he had nothing whatsoever to do with Cambridge Analytica, his company, Ovleno Business Intelligence, was indeed engaged in looking for a political client — like dozens of other self-styled political consultants these days.
The statement read: “We met with various political parties for the purpose of political interaction, for the cause of promotion of the firm and to pitch our services. The political parties namely BJP, Congress never signed any digital project with us nor assigned any work during any elections… Also, as claimed by CA website for 2010 Bihar elections OBI or SCL UK/Cambridge Analytica never worked with JD(U) for any assignment.”
Tyagi is unclear about whether or not he worked for his father’s party in 2015, but he told The Economic Times last week he was part of the war room — except that the war room was run by the Indian Political Action Committee, which denies Amrish Tyagi was ever there. He’s also claimed to have worked with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has denied his claims. He told The Economic Times in 2016 that he had helped Rajnath Singh win the Ghaziabad Lok Sabha seat in 2009, but now says he never worked for the BJP.
If Amrish Tyagi’s company has never been given any work by the BJP or the Congress, why did his website list both parties as clients till just the other day?
If Amrish Tyagi didn’t work for Donald Trump, Nitish Kumar, the BJP, the Congress, the AAP, or Prashant Kishor, then whom did he work for? How did he become a political consultant and psephologist in thin air?
The offices that never existed
Ovleno’s defunct website had a full page on SCL India, a company Tyagi formed in partnership with the two Alexanders now famous for Cambridge Analytica, and Avneesh Rai. Rai claims Ovleno took some demographic data from him to sell it to the BJP and others, but that would make Amrish Tyagi a re-seller, not a psephologist or political consultant.
The Ovleno website claimed that SCL India had 10 regional offices, a claim also found in the Cambridge Analytica presentation slides put out by Christopher Wylie. But Thursday, Tyagi’s statement said SCL India never did any work, never got off the ground — a claim corroborated by his former partner, Avneesh Rai.
“We would like to make it very clear that the business as envisaged could never be undertaken,” the statement said about SCL India. Why, then, did Ovleno Business Intelligence claim SCL India had 11 offices across India, including its Ghaziabad head office?
Because who’s going to verify it anyway? The media will just lap up the story and you could become a NASA scientist or a big-shot political consultant in thin air.