How influence works
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Lobbying exists, and if it is being perceived as a threat, transparency is the way to allay fears
After winning big in the FDI sweepstakes in India, it appears as though Walmart can't do anything right. Now, the opposition is accusing it of bribery, in its effort to turn the tide on FDI in retail. Given that its efforts were entirely transparent, the Indian response seems disingenuous. Walmart disclosed to the US Senate that it has spent $25 million over the last four years to lobby US legislators for market access in various nations, including India. It was a routine filing, as required by US law, which permits lobbying within a regulatory framework so long as the expenses are open to public scrutiny. No Indians were harmed, bought over or suborned in the process, which was carried out exclusively in the US. But the issue united the opposition in Parliament, which forced adjournments on the ground that since lobbying is illegal in India, this was a case of corruption.
Hopefully, this was only a political gambit, a peevish reaction to having been outmanoeuvred by the government only a few days ago, when both Houses voted for FDI in retail. But if the opposition leaders who forced adjournments yesterday actually believed the charges they were making, the situation is grim indeed. Because by recognising and regulating lobbying, the US government is dealing transparently with corporates like Walmart, which are large enough to strongly influence policy. In contrast, India lives on in strange denial of lobbying, though it has always been an important interface between government and private enterprise. For years, it has been whispered that corporates visiting Raisina Hill never come or go empty-handed. For at least a decade, there has been a demand to legalise lobbying, to stop whispering and speak out.
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