Rajya Sabha debates poll reforms

Prasad counters Opposition charges on misuse of media and electoral bonds

July 03, 2019 10:29 pm | Updated 10:29 pm IST - New Delhi

Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad speaks in the Rajya Sabha on July 3, 2019. Photo: RSTV

Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad speaks in the Rajya Sabha on July 3, 2019. Photo: RSTV

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday that the government would not allow the abuse of Indian data by foreign powers or foreign companies and it would bring a data protection law soon.

Mr. Prasad made the remark while responding to a debate on electoral reforms in the Rajya Sabha.

Participating in the debate, Kapil Sibal of the Congress raised the misuse of social media, and said the BJP was the top spender on Google and it paid ₹18.3 crore for advertisements during the elections.

Mr. Sibal said, “A certain political party used Google, Facebook and other social media platforms to target particular voters and the money spent” was something to be worried about.

“BJP officially spent ₹1.32 crore on Facebook but (through) unofficial FB pages namely Bharat ke Mann ki Baat, Nation with Namo, My First Vote for Modi… cumulatively ₹4.5 crore was spent. Both the BJP and the Prime Minister enjoyed complete media hegemony. If you want free and fair polls, it cannot happen like this. The social media, billboards, newspapers were flooded with the PM’s pictures,” Mr. Sibal said.

Raising doubts on the EVMs, Mr, Sibal said, “Our objection to EVM is principled, the voting machine has become a counting machine. We don’t know the source code, what programme is loaded on it… the ballot paper (in an electronic form) is loaded in the EVM unit two-three days before the elections, it is an engineer who puts it… this is not done by the EC, it is outsourced …no one knows what goes on there.”

Mr. Prasad said that Cambridge Analytica, accused of harvesting data of Indian users from Facebook, was sent two notices, but the firm did not respond, following which a CBI inquiry was initiated in 2018.

Mr. Prasad accused the Opposition of adopting double standards on the issue of EVM, saying leaders from their parties had become Chief Ministers and Prime Ministers through the same voting process.

“This hypocrisy and double standards impinges upon the credibility and polity of the country,” Mr. Prasad said.

He also pitched for the idea of “one nation, one poll”, and urged the Opposition to consider the proposal with an open mind.

The Minister said the government would write to the Election Commission to have a single voter list for Lok Sabha, Assembly and panchayat elections in the country.

Replying to a short-duration debate on electoral reforms, Mr. Prasad countered Opposition charges related to misuse of media, social media and electoral bonds during the recently-concluded general elections.

He said certain gaps needed to be plugged in electoral funding and corporates had been asked to give donation only through cheques.

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