Dr Ashok Sharma – Indian Lobbying and its Influence in US Decision Making

Profile Ashok Sharma LE Mag Feb 2017

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Indian Lobbying and its Influence in US Decision Making: Post-Cold War
by Dr Ashok Sharma, Author, Fellow, Australia-India Institute, The University of Melbourne and Deputy Chair, New Zealand institute of International Affairs, Auckland. Published by SAGE Publications, New Delhi 2017.

This book Indian Lobbying and its Influence in US Decision Making: Post-Cold War emerges from the significance of interest groups’ lobbying activities in the US political process. This e book is a study of the culmination of a long process of the maturing of Indian lobbying and its role in turning the distinctly frosty American attitude towards India, to one that has brought the world’s oldest and largest democracies to carve a defining partnership of the 21st century. The book examines the role of various modules of Indian lobbying mainly lobbying by Indian American community and their political organizations, India Caucus in the US Congress, the business organisation such as US-India Business Council and Indo-American Chambers of Commerce, and lobbying firms and lobbyists hired by the Indian government in changing the perception about India in the US Congress and facilitating a robust US-India relationship.  

The American attitude and policy towards India has been shaped by a variety of complex factors and had often been hostile and critical towards India. But, in the post-Cold War era, there has been a significant shift in the attitude of American policy makers, which has in turn paved the way for a robust US-India relationship.  This change has been a slow process. Several factors and actors are responsible. While the end of Cold War leading to the changed international scenario and the convergence between the US and India on geo-strategic and geo-economic issues are important factors, one of the significant contributors to this process is Indian lobbying in the US.

Lobbying is an intrinsic part of the American political process. It is a technique adopted by diverse interest groups, ranging from small domestic focused social, professional, ethnic groups to large foreign companies and nation states, for the purpose of putting pressure on policy makers in Congress to consider their interests favourably in policy decision-making. As American society has grown more pluralistic, and as the US government has grown larger and more decentralized, lobbying activities in the US have also increased. The US governmental system, with the separation of powers, creates ample space for the lobbying activities of interest groups. The key activities of these groups in pursuit of their interests are to penetrate and influence government agencies, which are directly engaged in policy formulation.

While the lobbying activities of domestic interest groups are well documented and researched, the involvement of foreign interests in lobbying activities have been relatively less known. The Jewish American Lobbying is one of the most successful examples of ethnic lobbying influencing the US foreign policy for a particular country i.e. Israel. But, in recent years after successful lobbying during the passage of nuclear deal in the US Congress the Indian American lobbying has emerged as one of the most influential ethnic lobbying groups in the US foreign policy making toward India.

Although Indian Americans constitute a small segment of the total population in the US (around 1%), they have acquired a commendable place for themselves in professional and economic field in the United States.     For a long time the Indian American community in the US did not actively participate in the political processes. However, over the past two decade and half, Indian Americans have transcended their professional success in to the political activities in the US to a reasonable extent. The influence of their political activism became significantly noticeable with the formation of the India Caucus in the US Congress in 1993.

The formation of the India Caucus in the House of Representative and then in the Senate is particularly notable indicator of fundamental shift in the Congressional attitude towards India. The successful lobbying by India Caucus has contributed to a much better image of India in the US Congress and deserves greater attention. In addition to reflecting the increasing influence of Indian Americans in US society, the formation of the India Caucus also reflected the increased efforts of the Indian government. The existing uncertainties of the post–Cold War era, the increasing nuclear and defence nexus between China and Pakistan, and the need to engage the lone super power induced the Indian Government to engage in various means and resort to the lobbying for a favorable perception about India in a complex decision making process at Capitol Hill. 

The book is divided into six chapters and a conclusion. The first chapter is titled Lobbying, Pressure Groups and Ethnic Lobbying in the U.S. Foreign Policy Making: Theoretical Overview looks into origin and development of lobbying groups, theories related to group formation, methods, techniques and targets of lobbying, and the factors that have legitimized the interest groups lobbying activities in the U.S. political system.

The chapter two, Indian Americans: Immigration and Professional Advancement in the US, deals with Indian immigration to the United States and makes an assessment of their professional success of Indian Americans. 

The chapter three, Indian Americans and Political Participation: Growing Political Activism and Lobbying, deals with political activism and lobbying efforts of Indian Americans and study the role of the Indian American political organizations in lobbying for the betterment of US-India relations.

The fourth chapter titled India Caucus: Lobbying for a Robust US-India Relations, and Indian Lobbying during the Cold War Period is about the events and factors that resulted into the formation of India Caucus in US Congress. An assessment of lobbying by India Caucus has been made mainly on the issues such as tackling the adversary lobby groups on the issues such as nuclear, terrorism, Kargil, Kashmir, economic aid and for advancing the cause of US-India relations. 

The fifth chapter The American Perception about India, the U.S.-India Relations and Indian Lobbying during the Cold War Period looks into the negative perception about India that had been dominant among the US Congressmen and executive officials during the Cold War period that created hurdles for developing a positive platform on which both the nations could come together and form a sound bilateral relationship. Finally, this chapter scans the beginning phase of Indian lobbying effort, which began to register itself at Hill during the waning days of the Cold War and early years of the Post- Cold War period, that was aimed at changing perception in the US about India.

Chapter six titled Achievements and Actions of Indian Lobbying towards a Transformed and Robust US-India Relation focuses on the lobbying undertaken with the intention of influencing US foreign policy towards India on various issues such as foreign aid, civilian nuclear deal, terrorism, economic issues. It examines the role that Indian lobbying has played in aftermath of India’s nuclear defiance in 1998 and Kargil incident, and during the passage of the landmark civilian nuclear deal bill in the House and the Senate, which marked the final arrival Indian lobbying as one of the most powerful ethnic lobbying groups after the Jewish lobby. 

This book is the first comprehensive book on Indian lobbying in US policymaking. After the lull phase in the US-India relations for a while in the post-nuclear deal phase, the arrival of Modi Government has rejuvenated the India-US strategic partnership. Prime Minister Modi has infused a new confidence among Indian Americans and has re-activated the Indian lobbying which will be significant for the continuity in the momentum of the India-US strategic partnership. The role of lobbying will continue to be inevitable and unavoidable for the future of US-India relations under Trump Presidency too. 


© Dr Ashok Sharma

Ashok Sharma is a Fellow at the Australia India Institute (AII), the University of Melbourne. Prior to joining the AII in May 2015, Dr Sharma was a lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Auckland, where he taught “Great Power Relations” and “International Security and Conflict.” He was a Visiting Academic at the University of Waikato and an Endeavour Post-Doctoral Fellow at Australian National University.

He is currently the Adjunct Faculty at University of New South Wales, Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra; Deputy Chair of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, Auckland Branch; and a Fellow at the New Zealand–India Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington.

Dr Sharma has taught Political Science at Delhi University College and worked with strategic and foreign policy think tanks based in New Delhi, namely the Observer Research Foundation, Centre for Air Power Studies and Centre for Land Warfare Studies. He did his BA (Hons) in Political Science from Ramjas College, Delhi University and MA in Political Science, MPhil, and PhD in American Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.

His broad research is in international relations and security studies with a focus on ethnic lobbying in US foreign policy, US–India relations, Indian foreign and security policy, India’s domestic politics, great power relations, Asia-Pacific security, international security with an emphasis on terrorism, nuclear issues, and energy security. He has extensively published chapters in edited collections, think tank papers and articles in peer reviewed journals such as Asian Affairs, SAIS Review of International Affairs, Israel Affairs, South Asian Survey, and for wider dissemination in the periodicals and reviews such as The Conversation, New Zealand International Review, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs and Australian Outlook.

SAGE India: https://in.sagepub.com/en-in/sas/indian-lobbying-and-its-influence-in-us-decision-making/book257644\

SAGE US: https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/indian-lobbying-and-its-influence-in-us-decision-making/book257644\

SAGE UK: https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/indian-lobbying-and-its-influence-in-us-decision-making/book257644\

A special thanks to Smrithi Sudhakaran, Marketing Manager – Academics and Public Relations, SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd. for making this happen.

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