The political row over a scandal involving Cambridge Analytica intensified on Friday with the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party accusing each other of hiring the services of the controversial firm accused of data theft.
The Congress stepped up its attack on the BJP alleging that the party hired the company's services in various state polls like in Bihar and then in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Delhi, besides for its 'Mission272+' in 2014 general elections.
Congress communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala posed several questions to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad over hiring of the British firm in previous state polls.
He also asked why Union minister Smriti Irani and BJP's former IT cell chief Arvind Gupta lauded CA's services.
Leading the BJP charge was Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who outrightly rejected the Congress' allegation that his party had hired the services of CA or its arms.
Surjewala accused the government of inventing a story on data theft to divert attention from key issues and compared the law minister to Hitler's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
In a multi-pronged attack on the government, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and Surjewala alleged that it was managing headlines to deflect attention from issues such as the death of 39 Indians in captivity in Iraq.
While Gandhi accused the government of baiting the media, Surjewala said Prasad, the law minister, was spreading "lies and falsehood" so it could avoid giving answers in Parliament and also dubbed him the "lawless" minister.
Asked about the Congress' attack against him, Prasad said the opposition party was pained because he was hitting out at their key leaders, including Gandhi and P Chidambaram.
"I understand their pain. But I maintain certain standards and will not fall to their level to respond to them," he said.
Prasad also accused Gandhi of playing politics on bodies of the 39 Indians killed in Iraq after he criticised the government over the issue.
"Problem: 39 Indians dead; Government on the mat, caught lying. Solution: Invent story on Congress and data theft. Result: Media networks bite bait; 39 Indians vanish from radar. Problem solved," Gandhi tweeted.
The Congress and the BJP have been engaged in a war of words over Cambridge Analytica and its Indians arms being engaged in past elections.
The company is under a cloud after social media firm Facebook accused it of data theft.
While the Congress is accusing the BJP of using the services of the company, the BJP has hit back alleging that it is the Congress and its chief that have hired the services of the company.
CA's Indian arm Ovelina Business Intelligence is run by Janata Dal-United leader K C Tyagi's son Amrish Tyagi.
Seeking to corner the government, Surjewala posed a series of questions, asking for details on its links with the company.
He denied that the Congress or its chief had hired the services of the company and used the phrase "chor machaye shor" (pot calling the kettle black) to say that the BJP had no right to make accusations against the party.
Addressing a press conference, Prasad said it was the Congress which had disrupted proceedings in the Lok Sabha when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had sought to make a statement on the deaths of Indians.
"All I will tell Rahul Gandhi (is that) he should not do politics on bodies of Indians who lost their lives in very unfortunate circumstances," he told reporters.
Prasad insisted that the Congress has used the services of CA, which has been accused of harvesting people's data from platforms like Facebook unlawfully to influence elections in different countries.
He alleged that imprints of the controversial British firm were "visible" in the Congress' campaign in Gujarat. It ran a "poisonous and divisive campaign" in the state, he claimed.
On questions about reports that an Indian company, which was Cambridge Analytica's partner, might have worked for the BJP and its allies as well, Prasad insisted that his party never had any ties with the foreign company.
He said there was no authentic confirmation of any Indian partner of the company working for the BJP or its allies.
Prasad, however, sought to make a distinction between CA and its partner, saying the former was accused of honey trapping and data theft.
Sujewala alleged, "The truth is that the government is denigrating and disrespecting the institution of Parliament. The truth is that it is running from accountability to Parliament."
He said no confidence motions were pending but instead of considering them, Parliament was being adjourned as the government was scared of replying to the questions being raised by people of the country.
The BJP government, he added, has become a "manufacturer of fake news and an epitome of post truth".
IMAGE: Law Minister Ravi Shanker Prasad with Labour minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar at a press conference at Parliament House in New Delhi. Photograph: Subhav Shukla/PTI Photo