BANGALORE — Lobbying has been a taboo for India’s wildly successful software companies: that distasteful activity was supposed to be the preserve of those looking to prosper from the licence permit raj. And anyway, their markets were mostly overseas.
But now, in the home of free market capitalism, as their encounters with disguised protectionism grow more frequent, the ‘L’ word does not appear so dirty any more. That is why, while America keeps inventing reasons to make it harder for them to do business, many Indian software companies are spending large sums hiring professional help to win friends and influence people in their biggest market.
At stake is over $30 billion (Rs 1.3 lakh crore) in business every year, about half of India’s total outsourcing revenue. Among the companies mounting an aggressive PR effort is Wipro, India’s third-largest software exporter. Last year, it hired Melanie Carter-Maguire, a government relations professional, to launch its lobbying effort in Washington DC.
Between January and March this year, Wipro spent nearly $60,000 (Rs 27 lakh) to lobby lawmakers and other officials about restrictive visa rules and policies that favour local companies. Cognizant , which is headquartered in the US but employs over 80% of its staff in India, spent $350,000 during the first quarter this year. Two years ago, it hired Robert Hoffman, a Capitol Hill regular, to lead its lobbying efforts.
“Engaging with policymakers and local communities through lobbyists and PR professionals was long considered a taboo. Now, some senior managers, especially those based there, are questioning that stance and asking us to step up,” said the CEO of a tech firm.
As America struggles with anaemic growth and stubbornly high unemployment, the campaign for the presidential election next year is well underway. With many citizens still associating unemployment with outsourcing firms, rhetoric is being combined with direct and indirect attacks on the business interests of Indian software companies.