American lobbying company Apco Worldwide markets Narendra Modi to the world


Apco muscled out a raft of PR companies, including the now defunct Vaishnavi Communications of controversial lobbyist Niira Radia, to win the contract to promote Vibrant Gujarat

Apco muscled out a raft of PR companies, including the now defunct Vaishnavi Communications of controversial lobbyist Niira Radia, to win the contract to promote Vibrant Gujarat
 DEC, 2012,  BINOY PRABHAKAR,ET BUREAU
Although the influence powerhouses that line Washington’s K Street are just a few miles from the US Capitol building, the most direct path between the two doesn’t necessarily involve public transportation. Instead, it’s through a door-a Revolving Door that shuffles former federal employees into jobs as lobbyists, consultants and strategists just as the door pulls former hired guns into government careers.

– The Center for Responsive Politics campaign-finance watchdog in the US

In 2006, an American lobby called Apco Worldwide, which doubles in public relations and boasts clients ranging from dictators to global investment banks, stepped into India. Uncharacteristically for one of the most muscular business lobby groups in Washington, it was a quiet entry. So it was not until three years later that Apco’s business in India really came into its own.

Apco muscled out a raft of PR companies, including the now defunct Vaishnavi Communications of controversial lobbyist Niira Radia, to win the contract to promote Vibrant Gujarat, the showpiece investment meeting of chief minister Narendra Modi that often sees dizzy pledges to do business and lavishes praise on Modi’s administration.

Vibrant Gujarat has evolved into the country’s premier investment meet – it is billed the “Indian Davos” – and as Gujarat goes to polls on December 13 and 17, Modi has frequently used the massive publicity around the event as a plank in his campaign.

How an American lobbying company Apco Worldwide markets Narendra Modi to the world

Until Apco appeared on the scene in 2009 to sell the event, Vibrant Gujarat was a modest show. At the first three events, investment promises were worth no more than $14 billion, $20 billion and $152 billion.

Enter Apco and in 2009 and 2011, the promises grew to $253 billion and $450 billion. The 2013 edition – from January 11-13 – is billed as the biggest yet. The United States-India Business Council (USIBC), along with counterparts from the UK and Australia, is sponsoring the event.

LOBBY GIANT

Those following Apco’s fortunes wouldn’t be surprised by the success of Vibrant Gujarat (the company has won a Global SABRE Award for its work). From its headquarters in Washington, Apco has long influenced many hot-button political and economic debates that roiled the US.

In 2010, Apco offered to start an image-improvement campaign for the US financial industry, which includes JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup Inc, after more than a year of public flogging in Washington. When these companies solicited proposals from public relations firms, they said: “Past experience in successful reputation enhancement campaigns is valued.”

Apco was hired by Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev to extricate himself from a four-year-long dispute with his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev. The company was approached by Hewlett-Packard Co’s board after accusations of harassment against its chief executive officer. It also handled crises as diverse asMerckBSE 0.27 % & Co’s scandal involving Vioxx, the arthritis drug that killed thousands before it was withdrawn, and Ford Motor’s troubles with Firestone tires on its Explorer vehicles.

How an American lobbying company Apco Worldwide markets Narendra Modi to the world

Walmart spent spent $25 million ’as its lobbying fee to enter #India


India’s blind fists of fury

The rage in Parliament is off target. Walmart’s disclosure of its lobbying fee in the US Senate should trigger a different debate in India, says Shaili Chopra
Shaili Chopra

December 13, 2012, Issue 51 Volume 9

Illustration: Anand Naorem

WALMART’S DISCLOSURE on the fees it paid to lobby for opening up the Indian market created an uninformed and noisy debate in Parliament. The notion that allowing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail would be the only stumbling block for Walmart’s entry into India quickly evaporated as proceeding in both Houses were disrupted for two straight days because of this disclosure report. As the time of its entry into India gathers pace, any piece of news to do with the company is being greeted with protests.

Earlier this week, the multinational retail giant disclosed in a report to the US Senate that it spent $25 million over the past three years on lobbying, including on issues related to “enhanced market access for investment in India”. Opposition members picked on this number and stalled Parliament, claiming lobbying was illegal and accused the government of taking “bribes” for pushing Walmart’s entry into India. BJP members demanded a probe into the matter. To the surprise of many, the government agreed to an inquiry into Walmart’s lobbying practices.

“This disclosure has nothing to do with political or governmental contacts with Indian officials,” says a Bharti-Walmart spokesperson. “It shows that our business interest in India was discussed with US government officials along with 50 or more other topics during a three-month period. Naturally, our Washington office had discussions with the US government officials about a range of trade and investment issues that impact our businesses in that country and worldwide, and disclosed this in accordance with the law.”

A look at the facts will help us understand better the legality of lobbying. For a start, though it is true that Walmart did pay lobbying firms to push for retail reforms in India, it is also true that it voluntarily disclosed this information. In America, lobbying is a valid practice, a right protected under the US constitution. Therefore, to say that lobbying equals bribery is an outlandish assumption. Just because there are no laws in India regulating lobbying to influence policymakers does not make it illegal. You have laws to make an act illegal, not having a law doesn’t make it otherwise. It is wrong to say Walmart bribed its way into India when there are no facts to prove so, although it may be the right time to address long pending issues around disclosures and lobbying in the country.

How should industry or individuals in a democracy try and convince policymakers of a particular position if not by lobbying? Unlike in the US, where the constitution allows it, we, in India, are running away from lobbying. We cannot expect transparency unless we have a right to approach our elected officials on any issue, in a manner similar to groups such as the CII and FICCI, who work with the government on behalf of corporate India, and with the rest of the world on behalf of India. In the US, such groups would have to register as lobbyists.

“Lobbying is often viewed with suspicion since it is confused with fixing,” says Sunil Kant Munjal, Joint MD, Hero Corp. “If it is in the form of advocacy to wean others to your point of view, it is absolutely fine and is an accepted practice worldwide and in India.”

Walmart has been the mascot of the battle between the UPA and its political opponents, who have been anti-reform in retail, their argument being it will hurt small traders and farmers. There is no doubt that the rollout of FDI will be complex and tedious and this latest controversy is a part of it. But what is also clear is that Walmart will need to rethink how it plans to make the most of India’s push for reforms amidst growing hatred for its brand. For the BJP to translate lobbying into bribery is misleading. What they should highlight is Walmart’s investigation of its Indian officials under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). They are more likely to find some ammunition there. Instead, they are confusing the two issues.

The company has undertaken a detailed investigation of its own arm in India with regard to internal bribery charges under the FCPA. It has sacked five employees in India, including CFO Pankaj Madan, following the inquiry, and Walmart India CEO & MD Raj Jain — who has just returned from the United States — is under severe pressure to sort out the mess.

The lobbying fee disclosure is not connected to this case at all but with all the wounds suddenly open, anti big box retail segments are making use of every opportunity to show how the entry of Walmart will be detrimental to India’s economy. It, of course, helps to remember that retail is not just Walmart or vice-versa.

Says Ronen Sen, former Indian Ambassador to the United States: “Anywhere you have democratic institutions, this is a registered way of doing things.” Sen further says that Indians have for long engaged in lobbying to push their case.

Unfortunately, in India, lobbying as a term is still associated with Niira Radia and the 2G spectrum scam, acts to be scoffed at, proofs of the unsavoury business- politics nexus. But the truth is, lobbying is undefined, vague and controversial because we have never considered a framework for it or its scope, albeit it has existed in every sphere — corporate, government, NGOs and more. And not one party can be exempted from indulging in it.

Often lauded for his business-friendly ways, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi reportedly hired Apco Worldwide, a public affairs firm, to boost his image internationally. Apco today boasts of a client list that includes names such as former Indian ambassador to the US Lalit Mansingh, US ambassador to India Tim Roemer and many more.

The UPA had also paid a US firm to lobby for the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. As reported by the Daily Mail in November 2012, Washington-based Barbour Griffith & Rogers (BGR) was hired by the Indian embassy to seek media interviews for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and get Congressional resolutions passed in his support ahead of a US visit.

“What is being said reveals ignorance,” says Sen who was instrumental in the Indo-US nuclear deal. “As India’s ambassador, I have actively engaged in lobbying, wherever it was. For example, when the erstwhile Soviet Union broke up, we had to lobby for a certain point of view to influence opinion. Even during legislations, as foreign envoy, I would get into the language of the legislation and lobby to get it changed with our trade, economic and security agenda in mind.”

INDIAN TECH companies routinely hire lobbying firms to get improved visa rules passed. Reliance, Tata and Nasscom have all used the services of global firms to get a foot in the door in other markets or appointments with governments.

Does an Indian citizen have any basis for seeking answers from those who receive funds? As a nation, we do not believe in disclosure of campaign finance, lobbying funds or even any gifts received by those in office. As a result, our political class gets uncomfortable whenever there is talk of disclosing information voluntarily. Why would any politician or entity disclose that they accepted any money when no such rule makes it incumbent on them to do so?

What this debate has once again exposed is our discomfort with transparency where all institutions — government, corporations or the bureaucracy — will have to deal with an open system of discussion, debate and decision. The government should take this opportunity to seek a basic framework to recognise lobbying as a legitimate industry, which should be given due importance when policies are drafted. At the same time, we need to recognise that excessive influence of money like in the US is not desirable and hence, the need for a set of rules.

People who work in the building that hosts the Walmart Federal Government Relations offices watch as hundreds of people from several different labor rights groups demonstrate in the street below August 5, 2011 in Washington, DC. Organized by the Jobs With Justice 2001 Conference, the demonstrators called on Walmart to secure decent, living wage jobs during their attempt to build four new stores in the District of Columbia, and not to retaliate against associates who join labor organizations.

We would also do well to acknowledge that lobbyists are professionals, who possess special skills of persuasion and tact to make a point of view acceptable to those who did not approve it. So that we understand that when Walmart spends $25 million on lobbying, it is because it used the best professional help it could to achieve its objectives. Calling it a bribe is not only irresponsible, but also defamatory.

Shaili Chopra is Business Editor, Tehelka.
shaili@tehelka.com

 

Archives

Kractivism-Gonaimate Videos

Protest to Arrest

Faking Democracy- Free Irom Sharmila Now

Faking Democracy- Repression Anti- Nuke activists

JAPA- MUSICAL ACTIVISM

Kamayaninumerouno – Youtube Channel

UID-UNIQUE ?

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 6,233 other followers

Top Rated

Blog Stats

  • 1,763,134 hits

Archives

October 2019
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  
%d bloggers like this: