Plain rules for special interests

Plain rules for special interests

The administration of the day in India—irrespective of its political hue—has always believed in governing by exception. Some may think that the easiest way to manage a country as large and diverse as India is to put in place an efficient bureaucracy (as Max Weber would have suggested) and draft rules for every possible situation. India has both, but it also has bureaucrats and ministers who believe in governing by exception.

This means and has meant two things. One, the government hasn’t been averse to (sometimes) taking positions in favour of one business house, company, or businessman, or changing a previously laid down policy. In the 1980s, the government was very keen that Swraj Paul run Escorts. Later in the same decade, it was equally keen that the Ambanis run Larsen and Toubro. And India’s telecom policy has changed at least twice in the past 10 years.

Two, the environment is conducive to people who know people or who can work the system—in short, lobbyists. To be sure, there are professional lobbies—including the Confederation of Indian Industry and the National Association of Software and Service Companies—that have managed to speak successfully to the government on behalf of the companies and industries they represent, but there are also powerful individual lobbyists who can get a few things done.

One of them was quoted a few years ago in an international publication about how his firm successfully lobbied on behalf of an international fashion brand and helped it enter India. The then commerce minister, the lobbyist was quoted in the publication as claiming, had a weakness for Italian suits.

In recent weeks, after a newspaper reported a tapped conversation between a lobbyist and a minister, several publications have run a series of articles featuring lobbyists; fact is, lobbyists have always been around. Maybe it is time for India to put in place rules, like the US has done, on lobbying. And maybe it is time for the government of the day to start managing by rules, not exceptions.

How can India ensure that lobbying doesn’t turn into crony capitalism? Tell us at