India hires lobbying firm to boost ties with US, provide strategic counsel
It replaces the Podesta Group, which shut down in 2017 after its work for the government of Ukraine came under scrutiny of Special Counsel Robert Muller in relation to the investigation into Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates.Updated: Dec 07, 2019 12:20 IST
India has hired a second lobbying firm to negotiate the complex US decision-making system and to influence outcomes, filling a void left two years ago by a firm that had collapsed under scrutiny of a special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in American elections in 2016.
Cornerstone Government Affairs, a Washington DC firm with offices in multiple states, registered itself as a representative of the Republic of India on Wednesday with the US justice department under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, a requirement for Americans representing foreigners.
“Cornerstone’s representation will encompass providing strategic counsel, tactical planning and government relations assistance on policy matters before the US government, the US Congress, and select state governments, as well as academic institutions and think-tanks on behalf of the Republic of India,” the firm said in the filing as the description of its work for India.
It replaces the Podesta Group, which shut down in 2017 after its work for the government of Ukraine came under scrutiny of Special Counsel Robert Muller in relation to the investigation into Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. No charges were filed against Podesta Group.
But the company, which was founded by brothers Tony Podesta and John Podesta (who would later join the Obama White House and then head Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign), never recovered.
It had helped India with Democrats, given the company’s deep connections to the party.
BGR Government Affairs, the other lobbyist that had been on India’s rolls for a long time and helped with Republicans, will continue.
Podesta Group’s absence, or of any other firm to lobby Democrats, was not felt because Republicans were in charge of the White House and both chambers of US Congress. Till November 2018, that is, when Democrats wrested control of the House in the mid-terms and turned DC into a two-party challenge.
India was still fine though, with a strong ally in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other senior leaders of the Democratic party.
But a bruising House hearing in October on the situation in Kashmir made it clear to Indians, according to people familiar with the developments, that BGR alone would not be able to do the job. And there was this: The BGR’s assigned liaison for India, according to the people cited earlier “was on holiday at the time, for god’s sake” To be realistic, that person would not have been much help at work either.
The hearing went badly for India, despite a spirited defense from the US state department’s top diplomat for South Asia Alice G Wells who has a growing band of fans among Indians.
In testimonies in the second half of the hearing, India’s handling of the Kashmir situation - the restrictions on movements, mobile telephony and internet access but not the abrogation of Article 370 - had come under severe criticism from lawmakers and witnesses who were predictably critical.
But Brad Sherman, a Democratic lawmaker from California, shocked Indians with his handling of the hearing. As co-chair of the India Caucus in the House, which has often been touted as the largest specific to any one country, he was expected to ensure the hearing did not swing too much to the extreme. But for reasons that remain under discussion, he allowed it to become very contentious, reinforcing a growing perception among India watchers that Delhi had a Democratic problem.