Lobbying in India: The time to pivot?

opinionLobbying in India: The time to pivot?

Lobbying can help to promote economic growth and development. In many countries, lobbying is an integral part of the democratic process.

India has had a sordid relationship with lobbyists. Lobbying, as it was (mis)understood, was the primary catalyst for corruption, crony-capitalism, tax-leakages, and in some cases, risks to national security.
Having said that, India has only seen the ugly side of lobbying. Given that lobbying was outlawed, only the outlaws lobbied. If India were to bring lobbying above board, and metamorphize it into a transparent, and regulated professional industry; we might just realize the multiple silver linings.
Firstly, lobbying can help to promote economic growth and development. In many countries, lobbying is an integral part of the democratic process, and it has been instrumental in shifting the Vikas and Atmanirbhar levers ( i.e. development and domestic consumption & production).
Secondly, legalising lobbying can help to improve transparency and accountability in government decision-making. Registering and declaring lobbying activity can help to eliminate the perception of secrecy and backroom deals that often accompany government decision-making.
Thirdly, lobbying can help to ensure that the voices of all stakeholders are heard. In a democracy, it is essential that the views and concerns of all stakeholders are taken into account when making decisions that affect their lives.
Fourthly, lobbying can help to promote good governance. By allowing stakeholders to express their opinions and concerns to elected officials and government representatives, lobbying can help to promote dialogue and compromise.
Finally, and this might be the most critical for India. We currently have a very lopsided mechanism to prop up voices. Being a protests-oriented nation, only the voices that can gather crowds, seem to get heard. This can be extremely dangerous where causes are high on meaning and impact, but low on mass-appeal. India desperately needs calm, directed, strategic conversations; none of which are possible if protests are the sole medium to address the government. Topics like aviation, healthcare, technology, investments, etc., are unlikely to be brought up through the protest-format. Lobbying is the only effective way for these subjects to be raised.
I would like to use a personal example here. The cause of bringing India’s heritage home has been discussed in academic circles for decades. Tomes of research, provenance matching, and conference presentations later, none of India’s stolen heritage was coming back home. Much research, but limited results.
Through “India Pride Project”, which I co-founded, we took it upon ourselves to advocate for the cause and reframe the narrative. A decade in, we have MPs across BJP, Congress, TDP, AIADMK, and more raising questions in Parliament. We now have media across the left-wing and right-wing, coming together to support the cause. Most importantly, what was only a theoretical/academic discussion, is now one that delivers measurable results (300 artefacts have come back to India in the last decade).
The journey from whining to winning, has been made possible squarely because of lobbying.
India stands to miss out on several opportunities if it fails to legalise lobbying. Firstly, it risks missing out on valuable input from stakeholders, including businesses, civil society, and other groups.
Secondly, by not legalising lobbying, India risks perpetuating the perception of secrecy and backroom deals that often accompany government decision-making. This can harm India’s reputation globally.
Thirdly, India risks falling behind other countries that have legalised lobbying. In an increasingly globalised world, India needs to be competitive and attract foreign investment. Legalising lobbying can create a level playing field and ensure that India remains competitive in the global marketplace.
The crucial question is, how do we legalise lobbying, whilst protecting our citizens from unscrupulous lobbyists?
The G20 presidency allows India an unprecedented opportunity to present its models for the world to replicate. Perhaps it is a platform for India to present a “made in India” version of lobbying. A Lobbying 2.0 if you will; for the interconnected, rule-based, sustainability-seeking, inclusive, world we now find ourselves in.
The western view of lobbying was formulated bang in the middle of the cold-war, when it was necessary for the western world to leverage capitalism as a tool for superiority. Lobbying therefore was structured to serve a single use case—corporate interest. India on the other hand can go back to the drawing board and structure a more complex, multi-faceted version of lobbying. Perhaps a version where lobbying not just protects, but enables the rights of “the last person” (Antyodaya); and brings her prosperity, access, and dignity through public-private models of progress (Amrit Kaal).
(To be continued…)
Anuraag Saxena is a board advisor, public affairs expert, and OpEd columnist. He has been featured in Washington Post, BBC, Vice, The Diplomat, Financial Express, Sunday Guardian, SPAN, etc.
He tweets at @anuraag_saxena

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