A Press Trust of India report, citing a disclosure made by a US lobbying firm, has said that Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) has spent around Rs1 crore lobbying US lawmakers. RIL isn’t exactly popular with some US lawmakers who have objected to the firm’s business ties with Iran. A few senators want the company to choose between the US and Iran.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The report goes on to claim that the money paid by RIL to BGR Holding “is the first instance of any lobbying by the Indian company with US lawmakers”.
That may or may not be accurate, but the news of the company’s lobbying efforts in the US is still interesting for a variety of reasons.
At one level, it is an indication of the globalization of Indian business. Sure, software lobby group National Association of Software and Services Companies has had, for a few years now, relationships with several lobbying firms in the US to ensure that the country’s lawmakers see outsourcing from India’s perspective, but the RIL effort marks the first time an Indian company has lobbied US legislators to ensure that its trade with a country considered a “rogue state” by the US doesn’t affect its business interests in the US itself.
And at another level, it is a grim reminder of the way lobbying is done in India. Sure, there are lobbying firms in India, only they rarely call themselves that. And they never disclose how much they have been paid to influence policy. That policy can be influenced and lawmakers here induced to see issues from the perspective of a company or an interest group is evident from the questions members of Parliament sometimes ask—questions that can be of interest only to a company, industry, or interest group—or letters they write to the prime minister—the poor man is invariably the recipient of such missives—pointing to the deeds of one company or another.
In the US, President Barack Obama has vowed to reform the lobbying process. In India, the government would like to pretend there isn’t any lobbying that goes on at all.
When will an Indian lobbying firm disclose that it has been paid to lobby on behalf of a company or interest group with the country’s lawmakers? That’ll be another step towards better governance.
Should India have laws that regulate lobbying and make it transparent? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org