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Lobbying in India: Where Amrit Kaal meets Antyodaya

opinionColumnistsLobbying in India: Where Amrit Kaal meets Antyodaya

India’s public consciousness, and therefore India’s law-makers have viewed lobbying as pseudonyms for corruption and bribery.

Lobbyists killed lobbying. Paradoxically, unscrupulous lobbyists have marred the reputation of lobbying to such an extent that it is only seen in a bad light in India. If we had mechanisms/laws to regulate and punish dodgy lobbyists, we could have created opportunities for constructive lobbying. As discussed in the last two opinion pieces in the series, constructive lobbying has the opportunity to deliver economic growth, democratic participation, transparency, and global-competitiveness. All through sane, balanced, low-volume, inclusive, conversations.
India’s public consciousness, and therefore India’s law-makers have viewed lobbying as pseudonyms for corruption and bribery. Their view therefore was to punish the sector, rather than regulate it. The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, the Companies Act, 2013, the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, the Disclosure of Lobbying Activities Bill, 2015 (private members bill) and other legislation are premised on the lobbyist being an undesirable influence, perhaps even an extra-constitutional evil. The assumption of guilt is not just a simplistic, reductive approach; but may also be a dangerous one that prevents India from achieving its Amrit Kaal potential.
Lobbying, when structured right legally, can be a significant lever for achieving twin objectives simultaneously—Amrit Kaal (Golden Era), and Antyodaya (upliftment of the bottom-of-the-pyramid). Perhaps moon-shot thinking, but legitimised lobbying might also replace high-pitched protests, as a method of getting a voice on the table.
However, the introduction and regulation of lobbying in India must be done carefully to ensure that it serves the public interest. The following are some key considerations:
Firstly, there should be clear guidelines for lobbyists, including requirements for registration, disclosure of activities, and ethical standards. These guidelines should be designed to ensure transparency and accountability in lobbying activities.
Secondly, there should be a regulatory body to oversee lobbying activities and enforce the guidelines. This body should be independent and have the necessary resources to carry out its functions effectively. As Chanakya had famously written, “Whoever imposes severe punishment becomes repulsive to the people; while he who awards mild punishment becomes contemptible. But whoever imposes punishment as deserved becomes respectable.” An empowered regulatory body is the only way to bring respectability to the profession.
Thirdly, there should be a public register of lobbyists and their activities. This register should be accessible to the public and updated regularly to ensure transparency. Furthermore, India might even consider constituting a statutory body, akin to the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) that self-regulates and ensures such transparency.
Fourthly, we should have a sensitive list of industries with heightened oversight and guardrails. Sectors like defence, national security, healthcare, financial data & technology, need special insulation from potentially rogue foreign players.
Finally, there should be mechanisms in place to ensure that lobbying does not undermine democratic decision-making processes. This becomes especially relevant in an era of disinformation and election-interference.
Alongside these legal changes India will need to augment its capacity to create talent, platforms, institutions, and channels to offer lobbying services. This traditionally has been the strength of India’s private sector. If and when legislation allows for well-regulated lobbying, we could expect training institutions, advisory firms, and industry bodies taking it upon themselves to create the pipeline to feed this pool.
In conclusion, legalising lobbying in India can help to promote economic growth, improve transparency and accountability in government decision-making, ensure that the voices of all stakeholders are heard, promote good governance and social justice, and attract foreign investment. However, it must be introduced and regulated carefully to ensure that it serves the public interest. It is perhaps time India stopped making simplistic assumptions, and othering the lobbying industry with false binaries. It is perhaps time to take a more nuanced view on the subject so India can truly align with the world.

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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