When lobbying is legal

Ask yourself — do you know how your MP voted on the last significant economic bill? What was your party's position and how did your party vote? The sad reality in the Indian context is that the more pertinent question is, did your party or your MP bother to show up at all to vote on bills that would reshape important policies such as insurance or intellectual property rights or pensions in India? Political posturing is surely a universal parliamentary practice, but when was the last time you witnessed Indian party leaders and MPs engaging in a serious policy debate on the plenary floor? Important bills in recent years have been passed in minutes, with little debate and often without the requisite quorum of MPs present. As in the Walmart case, members seem more interested in storming the well of their parliamentary chamber prior to storming out in yet another meaningless protest rather than in engaging in a serious, educated debate on the relevant issue — in this case, regulation of lobbying practices in India.

Since neither party leaders nor MPs see any gain to their careers by developing policy reputations with voters or their peers, there is little incentive for business lobbies to invest in and use policy expertise to build productive relationships with policymakers. The result is that while 32 per cent of Brazilian groups in the 2006 survey reported suffering at least a significant impact from the sale of parliamentary votes to special interests, almost 60 per cent of Indian groups reported significant impact. This gets us back to our original question — why the process of lobbying remains unregulated in India, despite the obvious costs to corporate India in terms of domestic and global reputation, not to mention the larger cost to society, and why we must infer what Walmart or Bharti may or may not have done rather than having access to concrete information that such regulation would disclose. None of the parties to these transactions have any interest in acknowledging the domestic origins of these incentives and practices.

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