On March 28 2018, the representatives of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee called for a meeting with all opposition leaders to demand that the government announce a nationwide debt waiver scheme and guarantee remunerative prices for farmers’ produce. Members of this umbrella body of farmer groups had previously met senior opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury, Sharad Pawar, Tariq Anwar, Farooq Abdullah and Sharad Anwar. In hindsight, if we look at this event from a political perspective, meeting these opposition leaders was actually an act of lobbying – so that these leaders could voice their demands at a time when the private member bill by Lok Sabha M.P. of Swabhimani Paksha Sri Raju Shetti and Rajya Sabha M.P. of CPI(M) Sri K.K. Ragesh will be tabled in the Parliament.
In 1995, the United States of America’s Congress passed the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). The purpose of the legislation was to cultivate greater transparency and accountability in federal lobbying practices by requiring lobbyists to register and make specific disclosures to the Congress about their activities and interactions with American legislators. In India, lobbying tantamounts to bribery and why shouldn’t it be? We have witnessed events where big corporations gave away crores of rupees in making anonymous political donations, paying off credit card bills of journalists and even sponsoring jets and choppers to political parties for their electoral campaign.
The symbiotic careers of Adani and Modi is an open secret. The case of 1,500 crore syphon to offshore haven against the Adani group has been brought by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and the Enforcement Directorate until the investigating officers were forced to step down. There are other stories of crony capitalism and lobbying. In November 2010, Radia Tapes shocked the world when transcripts of Nira Radia, one of the most influential lobbyist, with some of the most powerful politicians, corporates and journalists came out in public domain which included big names like Kalanithi Maran, Kanimozhi, A. Raja, Barkha Dutt, Prabhu Chawla, Vir Sanghvi, Suhel Seth, etc. This controversy showed how Nira Radia used her connections to tilt the auctions of the multi-million dollar license contracts in favour of her clients. Other cases of lobbying include Essar leaks which brought into the politician-corporate nexus in how the crony capitalists manipulate the government and judiciary for their vested interests. But these existing acts of lobbying in India go unheard as all of these happen behind closed doors far away from the attention of Parliament and common citizens.
During my conversation with a Greenpeace activist in Delhi, he said, “Nation Clean Air Programme for India is a new success story. Along with protests and petitions, we also have to lobby with politicians, bureaucrats, journalists and every influential people who feel the same about this issue just like we feel about it. The one who sits to make laws can pass whatever legislation they wish. In this cocoon of power, they forget about our community’s issues. Lobbying helps in influencing some influential people and groups in the power to voice for the interest of our cause in Government or in Parliament.”
Lobbying efforts work to establish relationships with these officials. When a politician feels like his communities are in-sync with his/her beliefs, it becomes easier to vote on causes that benefit the communities. There are times where lobbying is misused to provide an undue advantage to corporations or powerful individuals, thus the need for disclosure comes forward. BJP Minister Sri Ravishankar Prasad spoke out about lobbying and reduced lobbying to be an understatement for bribery. On the contrary, Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo introduced Disclosure of Lobbying Activities Bill as a Private Member Bill in the Lok Sabha which defined the term lobbying as, “an act of communication with and payment to a public servant with the aim of influencing” legislation or securing a government contract. The Bill requires the lobbyist to register with authority and declare certain information.
However, the law must not legitimise bribery or corrupt malpractices since it creates scope for prioritising windfall gains of private businessmen or corporations over public interest works. Lobbying should only include those activities that can further the beau idéal of participative democracy.