The Opposition, particularly the BJP, has got it wrong again. After an unexpected loss in the foreign direct investment (FDI) in Rajya Sabha, the opposition found a fresh ammunition following the retail giant Walmart's disclosure of $25 million since 2008 on lobbying to gain a foothold in the massive Indian market. The Opposition has demanded a thorough investigation into the Walmart's disclosures to see if the huge amount was spent to influence the law-makers in the country. Are we living in the era of a declining Mughal empire?
BJP leaders Yashwant Sinha and Ravi Shankar Prasad said lobbying was illegal in India and asked the government to reveal names of those who received the money. The Congress said it was the USA's duty to see if Walmart had violated any law while the USA defended the Walmart lobbying.
The enforcement directorate is already probing if the giant, which has a 50-50 back-end joint venture with the Bharti Group, violated rules by investing into a consultancy, Cedar Support Services. An internal probe into the violation of US anti-bribery law is also underway.
Small populist parties' opposition is understandable, why is the BJP doing the same?
The BJP's crying foul shows that the party lost its plot after losing the FDI debate last week, particularly in the Rajya Sabha where BSP's open support to the UPA government left the principal opposition party in a daze. The BJP was supported by other regional parties like the Trinamool Congress, JD(U), AGP and AIADMK but we all know how regional parties are propelled more by populist incentives than facts. Even the 'prisoner of the past' Left parties' opposition can be understood. But how can a national party, which believes in right-wing ideology and has also served at the Centre and more importantly, took a great interest in broadening and deepening relations with the USA. Just years after it was thrown out of power, the BJP started to see evil in everything foreign.
The BJP's apparent double-standards pose a very relevant statement tweeted by eminent writer and journalist Sadanand Dhume: "What does it say about India that it's this easy to turn the routine disclosure of a standard business practice into a scandal?"
The BJP's strong opposition against the FDI is not going to earn it any dividends. It is desperately trying to remain in prominence after losing face in the parliament but the way it's parliamentary leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were found speaking against the 'ill-effects' of the FDI, there can be no denial of the fact that the party has very little understanding of the darker alternative it is trying to project about the FDI. May be it has gone hyper because the Gujarat election, which it is almost certain to win, is here. But the winner of that battle will be Narendra Modi's personality cult, not BJP's baseless and hollow opposition to the FDI and so-called 'illegal lobbying' by the Walmart.
How much transparency in financial affairs do we practice ourselves?
Do the parties, which are shouting against lobbying, reveal their finance of campaigning before any election? Is there any culture in our politico-business circles that favour disclosure of funds or gifts, even if they are legal? Do the common Indian have any basis or scope to successfully unearth how parties and their financial sources work in tandem? And now, when an American firm is making fee disclosures as per the norms of that country where lobbying is a legal thing to do, we create a ruckus saying it's tantamount to bribe? I mean if every financial advancements made to secure interest is termed a bribe, then nearly all people on this planet should be behind the bars.
We also have our own lobby groups
The problem is that we, Indians, have a 'purist' psyche but our actions are self-defeating. What is the point in saying lobbying is illegal in India? Do not India's own business houses and lobbies put influence the decision-making mechanism? What do bodies like CII, Ficci and Nasscom do? They work to get the best deals from politicians, bureaucrats and media for business ventures. It is the work of the lobbyists to put up a united front and get the business done.
Terming it as bad and saying it is equal to bribing speak volumes about the critics' hypocrisy. It is a standard practice in any thriving and emerging economy. If we think it is not right, then let's abandon the dream of making India an economic giant and go back to the days of agriculture. Will the BJP take charge after that?
Lobbying is a standard and not an untouchable practice
There is no law that says lobbying is illegal in India. And yet if we are so much concerned about the transparency factor, then why did not the Indian rulers create a legal net all these years (post 1991) to scan every Videshi approaching and trying to push his/its financial agenda with the Swadeshi government? Our democracy-building mission is still incomplete for we have not taken a basic feature of democratic system of governance seriously so far and that is 'lobbying'. If other nations also begin to close their doors on Indian companies saying they were trying to bribe them through lobbying, then very soon the concept of India Inc will be evaporate in the air.
Corporate lobbying, as an expert has said, is a necessary evil and instead of targetting lobbying as bribing, the focus should be made on regulating the practice as the Americans have done through the US Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.
BJP has lost the entire FDI plot
The BJP has horribly lost the entire FDI plot. There is no possibility that the country will be sold to foreigners as some of the narrow-visioned populist regional parties have been saying. Neither there is any justification in saying that India will turn into a country of sales boys and girls nor by demonising Walmart as a foreign intruder. The BJP must think out its alternative economic agenda, if there is any at all, if it aspires to return to power in 2014. The world at this hour is a pro-capitalist one and we need foreign investment for a better future. Also politically, if it is trying to gain a moral high ground, why not initiate an impartial probe against chief Nitin Gadkari on the corruption charges levelled against him?
UPA agrees to conduct probe
The Congress later agreed to the Opposition's demand to conduct an inquiry into the Walmart lobbying issue. It was a well thought-out move for having already won the bigger battle, the UPA has little to lose by agreeing to the demand for an inquiry. It will atleast ensure that the government is eager to let the parliament function without further disruption. The BJP lost it yet again.