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Is Rahul Gandhi-led Congress Using Big Data to Defeat BJP in Elections 2019? "We will only deal with public data and on rare occasions, private data but with consent," says Praveen Chakravarty, Chairperson - Data Analytics Department, INC

By Vanita D'souza

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Big Data is the buzzword for 2018. From the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica fiasco to the European Union implementing its General Data Protection Regulation, also known as GDPR, big data has managed to show its good, bad and ugly colours to the world.

And India is not far behind in the game as the ball has moved beyond the startups and corporate courtyard. We now see one of the oldest political party in the country – Indian National Congress (INC) setting up a data analytical department to reach out to its voters in more effective and scientific manner.

The Need

Recalling the day, when the Congress President Rahul Gandhi formed the data analytical department in the party, members would often walk up to Praveen Chakravarty, Chairperson - Data Analytics Department, INC and ask whether other political parties have any such department. His response would be straightforward, "To my knowledge, I think we are the only ones in India and may be the only one around the world to have a formal department as such within the party."

For Chakravarty, Indian politics is perhaps the largest producer and consumer of data in India.

Take an example of India's geographical context, the country is divided into 7 lakh villages, 600 districts, 36 states and union territories, but guess what - the most micro units of information of what you get is through a polling booth. "There were nearly a million polling booths in the country in 2014 elections where you get information of how 600 million voters. You can actually get data of how each booth has voted. For every single election since 1952, imagine the size and the quantum of data. This is really big data and it reveals preferences of people," he points out.

Discussing the seriousness of the party at Data Science Congress 2018, the politician-cum-economist said, "Our approach to data is pure science. For us, data is important to make a decision and is not something that we think of when there is an election coming up and then we forget about it after the election."

The Struggle

On a typical day, Chakravarty gets bombarded with all sorts of data from images to videos to audios and numbers. This is then cleaned, processed and converted into meaningful information which the party can use to make decisions within Congress or electorally.

"Data can be used to make decisions like who should we give tickets to, who should we ally with, what should our stand be, how to convince our voters and that's why I always felt the use of data is perhaps acute in politics, especially in the Indian context which is so complex and diverse that it can be a game changer," the former investment banker added.

However, the challenges of the Congress are in the line with any startup working with data analytics. Even though India is heaven for a data scientist, most of the data in the country is unstructured and hence, it is not readily usable and the party continues to struggle to process audio-based data.

Déjà vu?

Facebook-Cambridge Analytica ruckus was a clear example of how data can be misused by stakeholders to manipulate voters. With Indian Loksabha election due in 2019 and as the country struggles to outline laws for data security and data privacy, each one of us would surely raise an eyebrow on Congress' move.

Rubbishing any such potential data breach, Chakravarty said to Entrepreneur India, "We are very clear here that we will only deal with public data and on rare occasions private data with consent. There has been no breach in the Congress party previously nor there will be in the future. We are very strict about these issues."

This is why Chakravarty says the Congress has not appointed an external vendor to process the data and instead it is working with professionals and a bunch of party volunteers.

Post the massive fall on 2014 Lok Sabha election, with the help of big data the party is hoping to sweep the next Loksabha poll. But only time will tell whether India will witness Cambridge Analytica 2.0 situation or dawn of Congress 2.0

Vanita D'souza

Former Senior Correspondent, Entrepreneur India

I am a Mumbai-based journalist and have worked with media companies like The Dollar Business Magazine, Business Standard, etc.While on the other side, I am an avid reader who is a travel freak and has accepted foodism as my religion.

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