At an infrastructure conference, I had the privilege of meeting a person whose name was Mr. Singh. He introduced himself and gave me a card, which had Mr. Singh with the words Power Broker prominently embossed above the address. I thought maybe this person is into a lucrative business of buying and selling of electricity given India’s power scenario. Before long he explained or rather clarified with a flourish that he is a ‘power broker’ in the sense he could fix anything that was required in the city or maybe even within the country. To provide credibility to his boast, he carried an album in which he had photographs of himself with all leading personalities including Prime Ministers, Presidents and even the then US President Bill Clinton.
I was most impressed to say the least. He shared some insights of his business model and he also shared with me his vision statement for his company which I found so interesting and so impressive that I will repeat it “We help the needy meet the greedy”. Other vision statements I could think of are “If you have the will, we have the bill” or “You have the will, we have the way”.
Post Radia-Gate, power broker seems to be the catchword of the year. Before Radia-gate also, power brokers used to operate and it is not a new phenomena that is limited only to India. This is done across the world and they have different names for the same activity. In the most advanced countries like America it is called as lobbying. In simple terms, it means to make sure that the policies are designed in a way to suit your organization or your client’s interests. Lobbying has developed into a fine art in developed countries. In fact, lobbying is a big service industry and there are professional lobbyists who build up bases in Washington and influence public policy. In fact, the recent war on Iraq waged by USA is also touted as a lobbying effort by the defense companies to “kick start” the US economy. There have been novels written by the likes of Ludlum etc where they talk about the power of the big corporation and their involvement with the political and legal system.
In India, lobbying is nothing new. Before the breakdown of the license raj, it was done by the corporates to get or hold on to their licenses. Post the dismantling of the license raj, it was thought that the entire cozying up to the politician and bureaucrat’s network will come down. But reality is different. It is extremely naive on our part to believe that lobbying will end and we will live in a world where lobbying does not matter.
What Radia-Gate has done is just put this lobbying into the public domain. Managing public opinion is a skill and I think politicians are masters in managing public opinion. Businesses have been using the government for managing regulatory environment. The government should legitimize lobbying. They can set up a regulator and also define a code of conduct that needs to be followed. Money could then be paid in cheques the way people donate to political parties in USA. The best lobbyist will no doubt become the Chairman of the Lobby regulator.