The former Indian partner of CA’s parent firm Strategic Communication Lab, Avneesh Rai, alleges that the British firm has appropriated his work from 2003 to 2012.
New Delhi: Christopher Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistle blower, has put out a Tweet with ‘evidence’ that Cambridge Analytica worked in India.
I've been getting a lot of requests from Indian journalists, so here are some of SCL's past projects in India. To the most frequently asked question – yes SCL/CA works in India and has offices there. This is what modern colonialism looks like. pic.twitter.com/v8tOmcmy3z
— Christopher Wylie 🏳️🌈 (@chrisinsilico) March 28, 2018
The images there seem to be from a Cambridge Analytica power-point presentation. Such presentations are usually made for sales pitches.
It is important to note that these documents claim SCL Elections, which became Cambridge Analytica in 2013, worked on various elections in India between 2003 and 2012. It makes no mention of any work after 2012.
Christopher Wylie joined SCL / CA only in August 2013, and seems to have no direct knowledge of these campaigns in India.
On a corner of one of the slides is the term “SCL India”. What is SCL India? SCL India was a company created in 2011, registered in Kanpur, with four people as directors. These are Alexander Nix and Alexander Oakes of SCL UK, Amrish Tyagi of Ovleno Business Intelligence and Avneesh Kumar Rai, who has been working on mapping Indian voters for a long time.
As first reported by ThePrint, SCL India wanted to woo the Congress party as a client between 2010 and 2012, while at the same time having an Indian businessman in the United States as a client. This businessman wanted Alexander Nix to go and defeat the Congress in India. Nix first came to India in 2010, but had to give up on the country after his double-crossing was exposed.
Speaking to ThePrint, Avneesh Rai has reiterated that this was his work from 2003 to 2012 which SCL UK has falsely claimed as theirs – just because SCL UK’s directors formed a company with Avneesh Rai, namely SCL India.
Even after SCL UK’s partnership with Avneesh Rai collapsed, and SCL India became a defunct company, SCL UK and Cambridge Analytica have continued to claim they worked on these election campaigns in India. It is curious why, after such a long and successful run, they did no work in India after 2012, especially with a big election season in 2013-14.
“Their claims are completely false,” says Avneesh Rai, adding, “the slide put out by Wylie says they have caste data for all of India. So SCL UK managed to do in a few months what took the Indian government 60 years? What can be a bigger lie than this?”
The slides put out by Wylie also claim that SCL India’s head office was in 155, Niti Khand 1, Indirapuram, Ghaziabad. Avneesh Rai says it was him who took this office space on rent in 2008 and continued to use it till 2011. Even before Wylie’s tweet, Rai had mentioned this exact office address.
But Wylie’s slide also claims SCL had 10 regional offices across India from Ahmedabad to Guwahati. Rai says this is “absolutely false”.
Did SCL or Cambridge Analytica work for Congress?
Wylie claimed in his testimony before the House of Commons yesterday that Cambridge Analytica had the Congress party as a client in India, but the ‘documents’ put out by him don’t say so.
“I have worked mostly with candidates and not parties. I look at candidates who have won a decent number of votes in a previous election and approach them to see if they could do with my data work,” Rai said.
“In 2012, Uttar Pradesh data gathered by me did go to the BJP through Ovleno Business Intelligence but Cambridge Analytica, SCL UK or SCL India had nothing to do with it,” he said.
Perhaps the best evidence that Cambridge Analytica did not have the Congress as a client has been the party’s abysmal performance since 2012. Given how it has been losing election after election since then, and losing badly, it is unlikely that it had an aggressive political consultant like SCL/Cambridge Analytica, which works mostly with conservative parties.
Meanwhile, Divya Spandana, head of social media for the Congress party, has told journalist Barkha Dutt that Cambridge Analytica recently approached the Congress party to work on the 2019 elections but the Congress turned it down.
Exclusive: Congress @divyaspandana confirms Cambridge Analytica DID approach them; there were emails & a proposal for 2019 elections but says party turned them down. "They were client- hunting like agencies do. We said No". Preview of my interview for @themojo_in & @TheWeekLive pic.twitter.com/b9At34NBm4
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) March 28, 2018
Much ado about nothing
There is absolutely no evidence that Cambridge Analytica has worked on a single election campaign in India – but yes, they’ve been trying.
Just as individuals inflate their CVs, making false claims in the belief that nobody will go around verifying them, companies often do the same in their sales presentations. This certainly seems to be the case with Cambridge Analytica, before it became famous for the Brexit and Trump campaigns.
But even if Cambridge Analytica did work on election campaigns in India, there is no evidence of any malpractice or illegality – and certainly nothing to do with Facebook data.
Let us hypothetically presume Cambridge Analytica did harvest Facebook profiles of Indians, even then, there is no illegality. Unlike the US and UK, India has no data protection or privacy laws that would be violated by unauthorised mining of Facebook data.
Then there’s the case of Ovleno Business Intelligence, run by Amrish Tyagi, son of JD(U) leader KC Tyagi. Ovleno claims to have worked for both the BJP and the Congress, but once again with little evidence. It uses its past collaboration with Avneesh Rai to make those claims.
Elder Tyagi, the JD(U) politician claimed on TV that his son worked with Prashant Kishor of the Indian Political Action Committee on the Bihar 2015 elections. But members of IPAC say the claim is “absolutely false”. Having covered the Bihar 2015 elections, and having interacted with the IPAC social media team that worked on it, this writer can say without doubt that Amrish Tyagi, OVL or any third company had nothing to do with Nitish Kumar or Lalu Yadav’s social media campaign.