Although a common business practice across the world, lobbying has been subjected to enormous flak in the Indian context. Excessive media coverage and half-baked opinions have labeled it synonymous with lies, cheating, and bribery. So much so that anyone associated with the profession is maligned, painted in grey, and, in some cases, subjected to libel. However, it is imperative that people look at lobbying beyond the lens of portrayal and attempt to remain objective while establishing an understanding of the practice instead of writing it off as illegal.
Corporate lobbyist Deepak Talwar says, “Lobbying is plagued by taboo and misconceptions. The practice has gained a negative connotation because of biased coverage and insufficient knowledge. For instance, a lot of people believe that lobbyist deal with bribery. In reality, the professionals are hired by companies for their in-depth knowledge of business and rules so as to shape decision in their favor.” Deepak Talwar has helped companies such as Coca Cola and United Distillers set up shop in India.
Lobbying in India continues to form a key part of business and economy at the national level with names such as Ranbaxy, Reliance, Tata, Wipro, and the Indian government. Despite this, the major reason behind Indian lobbying and negativity is the incomplete adoption of the practice. Originally, lobbying was introduced in the United States as a means of businesses to try and persuade officials and policies in favor of a business. However, it was monitored, structured, and legalized under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, 1995, which mandates the registration of every lobbying firm as well as ensures proper filing for annual expenditure.
On the other hand, India has not awarded formal recognition to corporate lobbying as a profession. Due to the lack of a legal framework, lobbying firms have no guidance about the dos and donts of the business. Additionally, lack of regulation diminishes transparency quotient of the practice and fuels the doubts associated with the practice.
Amit Mitra, current Finance, Commerce & Industries minster of West Bengal says, where corporate lobbying is endemic but exists in a gray area of the law needs to follow countries such as United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, etc, as role models since lobbying there is a big, established and well-defined industry.
It is clear that the taboo associated with Indian lobbying cannot be eliminated without legal help. A legal structure needs to be introduced in the parliament that defines lobbying as a profession along with its limits. Subsequently, companies will be bound to declare their expenditure on paper which can be instrumental in reducing the corruption quotient in India. Definitive boundaries are expected to promote transparency and help businessmen understand the fine line between persuasion and bribery.
Consequently, this holds the potential to improve India’s ease of doing business index. Strong government support and legal lobbying intricacies combined with liberal FDI rules could attract various foreign companies to establish their operations in India. If shaped in the right direction, legalized lobbying could lay the cornerstone for a spurt in Indian economic growth.