If Niira Radia did what she did today in the early 1870s, she would still be called a lobbyist. The practice is not new and neither is the use of the word lobbying. One version is that it began during that decade when US president Ulysses S. Grant used to walk from the White House to the Willard Hotel ‘lobby’ to meet people who wanted to have a say in presidential matters. So was born the term ‘lobbyists’.
What is also not new is the network between journalists and lobbyists. It is common knowledge that a journalist who has never received a call from the most influential lobbyist is termed as someone who hasn’t made the cut just yet. Today, there is evidence of lobbyists having more than just access to columnists and editors. Most journalists are on the list of agencies that maintain and manage an extensive network of newshounds. So there is no point waking up to this nexus as if it never existed. It is the job of a lobbyist to influence but it is up to the journalist not to get swayed. That, especially when accompanied by an unfair quid pro quo, clearly breaches journalism ethics. But the debate today is not over the access to those who run and own media, the worry is over what kind of people have the access, what exchange takes place when lobbying happens and whether the result of such lobbying should be transparent and known to the public.
Lobbying in India today is a dirty word. For one, it appears cash has become a key negotiating weapon by lobbyists. In the good old days, it was relationships and negotiating tactics combined with small favours, but today it’s all about big money. Corrupt ways of lobbying gets work done faster. It is no longer about “influencing” change but dictating change by way of cash in many cases.
Secondly, we as a nation are still evolving and shaping laws and policies as the economy continues to reform. But maybe it is not fast enough and hence leaves scope for excessive influence. There are too many processes at the mercy of a few. Local governance is not transparent and information is not available to those affected by policy changes. Bottomline—lack of transparent processes is breeding corruption even in lobbying as lobbyists get undue access and advantage. Three, there is no informed debate on issues around which lobbying takes place. Those who want to influence policies are not willing to reveal their stand on issues nor is there a requirement in law to make such discussions a part of the annual calendar of politicians.
Now look at how it worked before 1991—lobbying was thought of as a relatively legitimate way to seek higher quotas by companies. After that, lobbying was aimed at influencing policies that were being drafted so that companies could get into new sectors. Consumers were craving for the benefits of liberalisation and few cared how they got the goodies. To imagine all changes took place without some lobbying would be foolish.
In a democracy, different points of view will always exist and corporates will differ on how a policy affects them. It is only through a legitimate route of sharing inputs that a balanced policy can be made. This is where lobbying can be justified.
Discard the term lobbying and let’s talk about pure public advocacy of issues. This can be done in a transparent manner and through legitimate means. We can adopt our own model but let’s explore the Lobbying Disclosure Act in the US which mandates a registry of all such efforts by public advocacy groups and the money they spend to make their case. It is public knowledge who they work for, who they influence and how goals are achieved. At least this will help in weeding out corruption in lobbying. The rti legislation is a good way to handle corruption if used well. Self-regulation and disclosures in media can make it public when you accept hospitality beyond a particular limit. Let politicians be mandated to take part in debates that allow all sides to make their points. Make it an open forum where groups can build public opinion on issues with the masses so that everyone who has a stake in it understands why a policy decision is taken. So when a bill hits the floor of Parliament, no hidden agenda exists.
Advocacy will remain a critical aspect of policymaking. Such a practice is necessary for a thriving democracy. And why not? Influence through advocacy needn’t be surreptitious. Just like corrupt doctors or lawyers are not reasons enough to ban their profession, advocacy is here to stay, call it by any name you may like.
(Shivnath Thukral was a journalist for 15 years and now works for the corporate sector. These are his personal views.)
Legalising lobbying, as Shivnath Thukral advocates in Move it to the Main Hall, won’t help. Do you think babus and netas will accept payment in cheque and issue receipts? As long as corruption exists, legalising lobbying will be cosmetic. Imagine bureaucrats annually declaring which corporate has hired their offspring at wildly inflated salaries or which one has promised to hire them as ‘consultants’ post-retirement.
Samir Rai, London
Lobbying should be legalised, it would be a lucrative deal for journalists post-retirement. Almost all business reporters are anyway doing PR for at least a couple of corporates.
Kumar Aiyar, Chennai
It is a fact of life that lobbyists, in various hues and colours, are omnipresent in the capital of every state and country in the world and lobbying has grown into a flourishing industry in the present context of calls for increased state regulation of every sector of commerce and industry. In fact, in all major capitals, most of the hotels, restaurants and other hospitality sectors (I do not wish to elaborate further) depend for their business on lobbyists, their clientele and their targets. Even the Indian Government has been reported to have been engaging lobbyist(s) for the past several years in Washington, D.C. and has been paying them fat sums of money for influencing sundry US senators and congressmen to take pro-India stance on various issues affecting US-India relations.
Gurudas Dasgupta, the CPI MP, in his opinion column In The Economic Times, dated 03 December, 2010 described lobbying as “a kind of economic prostitution”. He must know because, if Mamta Banerjee is to be believed, even the Left Government in W. Bengal retained the services of the same Niira Radia to lure the Tatas to set up the Nano plant initially in that state. When Mamta threw a spanner into the works, Niira promptly switched her affiliation to Narendra Modi (a person most loathed and detested by all the left parties) and is credited to have played a crucial role in shifting the Nano plant to Gujarat. This is concrete evidence, if at all any evidence is required, to substantiate that lobbyists, like prostitutes, have no permanent loyalty to anyone. They go where the money beckons them.
Of course, it is given that all lobbyists act as middlemen(women) for bribery and corruption. Politicians in power (or even out of power) and bureaucrats don’t do you favours out of any love for you or for charity unless, of course, the benefactor happens to be your daddy or daddy-in-law, as has been alleged in the case of good, old Yeddy in Karnataka. In the normal scheme of things, they do it for sex or for money or, occasionally, for both (as has been alleged in the case of an IAS officer in the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi who was recently charged and arrested for passing on sensitive information to some corporates in the Telecom Industry).
Ultimately, here is the maxim adhered to by all successful lobbyists: Do whatever you can to get the job done and mission accomplished for your client but, for God’s, your client’s and your own sake, do not get caught with your pants or skirt down!
WikiLeaks is God send relief to Manmohan Govt to divert attention from the nightmare of facing daily Scam exposes !
Completely agree with that lobbyisng should be legalised. This is very high paying jobs for journalists when they are working as a journalist or if they retire. In fact, almost all journalists are doing PR for at least couple of corporates when they are in service as part time profession and if anything goes wrong, they can always go to these companies and work full time. There are many examples. Right?
You bring in transparency and legitimacy and lobbying ceases to be lobbying! An interesting story is that in June 1995 the Republican Conference Chairman John Boehner (who next month will become Speaker of the House of Representatives) handed out "about a half-dozen" checks from the tobacco lobby to fellow Republicans on the floor of the House!
Legalising lobbying will not help. Do you think that Babus and netas will accept payment in cheque and issue receipts. As long as corruption exists legalising lobbying will be cosmetic. Imagine bureaucrats annually declaring which corporate has hired their off spring at inflated compensation or which one has promised them to hire as highly paid consultant post retirement.
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