March 28, 2006

India Lobbies Hard.

Lost in the euphoria over the signing of the nuclear deal between India and the US was the small matter of US Congress requiring to approve the deal. India is going all out trying to achieve that end according to Time magazine.

India isn't relying on diplomacy to win the U.S. Congress's backing for the controversial nuclear cooperation pact announced by George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi two weeks ago. It's playing the Washington game like the locals do--with lobbyists. Long before Bush's visit, India lined up two lobbying firms to sell the deal. The Indian embassy signed a $700,000 contract last fall with Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, an outfit led by Robert Blackwill, Bush's ambassador to India from 2001 to 2003. The embassy is also paying $600,000 to Venable, a firm that boasts former Democratic Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana as its point man.

The embassy won't say exactly what the lobbyists are doing, and Blackwill and Bayh won't give details about their work. But according to their Foreign Agents Registration Act reports, which must be filed with the U.S. Justice Department, the lobbyists had been buttonholing senior Bush Administration officials since last autumn to pitch the deal. They also arranged meetings for Indian diplomats with key figures on Capitol Hill, such as House International Relations Committee chairman Henry Hyde and Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Bayh told TIME, "We may be able to open some doors and begin an educational process."

Arms-control groups and some former Bush aides who oppose the deal warn that India might use U.S. nuclear technology intended for its civilian nuclear facilities to expand its weapons program. John Wolf, Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation from 2001 to 2004, complains, "We were outnegotiated." Bush aides say they weren't, insisting that controls will be in place to prevent diversions to the arms program. But they--and India's lobbyists--still have to win approval from a leery Congress. A senior House Republican aide says that after being blindsided by Bush's last foreign deal--the now aborted Dubai takeover of operations at six U.S. ports--lawmakers will begin the India hearings "with eyes wide open."

$1300,000. That is about 5.85 crore Indian Rupees.

It is a joke on the concepts of democracy and people's power when deals are approved or disapproved via such methods. Perhaps lobbying is an essential part of a democracy. But I find it very distasteful that such insane amounts of money are spent on what should essentially be a simple process of trying to convince someone of your point. It requires persuasive arguments and conclusive evidence. But why it requires such huge sums of money is beyond me.


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