Does India need lobbyists on the Capitol?
Despite growing ties between the US and India, experts say New Delhi should evolve a formalized and transparent strategy to reach out to bureaucrats in Washington and bring around the "Cold Warriors" in Congress.
A report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace authored by Ashley Tellis, former advisor to the US ambassador to India, indirectly endorses this strategy as it points to the strong differences of opinion within the Washington bureaucracy on how to treat India.
In the age-old tradition of lobbying, which is a way of life in Washington, lobbyists and others contend the Indian bureaucracy and "friends in high places" may not be as reliable channels as lobbyists whose accomplishments can be measured.
Pakistan, in fact, over the years, has employed one or more lobby groups simultaneously, to get its points across.
On the other hand, Israel does not keep a lobbyist but relies on organisations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) apart from the US' longstanding strategic interest in its well-being, to see it through.
Admittedly, in between, are countries that either can't afford lobbyists or don't figure strategically in Washington's worldview or do not have a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the country to see the advantages of political action committees and lobbying firms.
An unconfirmed report about the Manmohan Singh government contemplating doing away with lobbyists and depending on other groups including CEOs to reach out to President Bush and US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice may be a short-lived strategy.
Experts here contend this might be a mistake and a throwback to earlier decades when New Delhi was not well-served by informal channels to make its presence felt at the White House and on the Hill.
Despite many who oppose lobbying, it does make influence-peddling overt. Almost daily, there are reports by non-profit organisations that study who-paid-what-to-whom to get their work done because all transactions have to be reported.
In fact, experts say India might do well to introduce a similar overt formalized system of influencing the government instead of under-the-table payments that might be currently operating.
"There is certainly nothing immoral or improper in a foreign government engaging a lobbying firm to make its case in Congress. This is part of a time-honoured tradition in our country. Many foreign governments use lobbyists to help them gain access to members of Congress and the administration and to frame their arguments in a way to make them most appealing," former Congressman from New York Stephen Solarz told IANS.
Solarz, now a lobbyist here, however conceded that because of the current strengthening India-US relations, India may no longer need the assistance of a lobbying team.
The India Caucus has some 160 members and the relationship is better than it has been in decades. "And the growing success of the Indian American community in our country, India now has an indigenous base of support in this country, which to certain extent renders the need for a lobbying team less important than in the past," Solarz said.
Former Congressional India Caucus chair Joe Wilson (Republican-South Carolina, said: "I would leave that totally to the government of India, to the Embassy of India. Things are going so well that sometimes you really need a lobbying firm because there's so much good going on.
"At the same time things are going so well that you don't need a lobbying firm. So good people can come to totally different conclusions," Wilson said.
"It's not a smart move (not to use a lobbying firm)," said Walter Andersen, former State Department intelligence official and now Associate Director of the South Asia program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
"This is such a complicated town, a complex place. Lobbyists understand who is where. Because governments obviously like influence and lobbyists know where the nodes of influence are, and lobbyists do it better than the Indian embassy can," he insisted.
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