After being defeated in Parliament on the question of FDI in multi-brand retail, the BJP and the Left have latched on to a mandatory filing by Walmart, the international retail giant, that the company undertook lobbying in America to help it gain entry into foreign markets, including India.
There is nothing sinister about this, and yet the Opposition parties cannot accept their pet project of blocking FDI in retail being defeated. They are looking for any reason to stop Parliament from functioning. We saw this in the Rajya Sabha on Monday and in both Houses on Tuesday.
The allegation of bribes has been made when those doing so should know better. In the circumstances, the reckless allegation can only be called political — and disingenuous. Lobbying has existed in the United States since the time of George Washington, and the first lobbyists represented farm lobbies.
There is nothing shady about the activity. It is well regulated. Lobbyists file activity and expenditure reports to the US Senate each year. Lobbyist firms are well-known entities. Indeed, several are run by former Congressmen. Anyone with a cause — and not only commercial — can engage the services of lobbyists who are valued for their access on Capitol Hill.
The embassies of India and Pakistan, besides others, also hire lobbyists to push their case in the US Congress on specific questions (like Kashmir, civil nuclear issue, etc). Lobbyists don’t offer bribes to American legislators. That would be a serious offence. They run large establishments of lawyers, researchers, public relations people and others.
They seek to influence perceptions, much like advertisers do, and their work entails sufficiently convincing those in authority to help effect policy and legislative changes. Walmart declared it spent $25 million since 2008 to lobby in the US to push for entry into the retail sector in many countries, including India. No lobbying was done in India.
Nor was the effort, for which the filing in question was made, India-specific. Then what is there to get excited about? Formal lobbying conducted within specific laws does not exist in India while bribery is routine, rampant, and all-pervasive. Much of the allegation of corruption is directed at the political class, about which most people harbour a low opinion.
It is therefore ironic to see members of this class make such a song and dance about Walmart’s perfectly ordinary declaration. Patently, the purpose of the Opposition is to scuttle the implementation of FDI in multi-brand retail. It is not a far-out thought that the Opposition may want the policy paralysis charge to stick to give the government a bad name. But India suffers in the bargain.