Indo-US N-deal headed for more political turmoil: Lobbyist hired by India on US arms dealers’ payroll
* Lobbyist employed to influence US lawmakers is on the payroll of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman
By Iftikhar Gilani
NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in for yet another major political row over the Indo-US nuclear deal. It has surfaced that a former US ambassador to India, who has been engaged as a star lobbyist to influence US lawmakers, is also on the payroll of two American firms to acquire fat defence orders for them from the Indian government.
The link that has emerged between the 123 Agreement signed in July and a multi-billion dollar fighter aircraft contract floated soon thereafter may become a major embarrassment for the government in power — Robert Blackwill, US ambassador to India during the previous governmentt’s tenure, happens to be associated with both. Legal experts here are surprised that the government has hired a lobbyist in Washington who works for the arms dealers. Blackwill’s firm, Barbour Griffith & Rogers, was hired by India in 2007 on a contract worth over $1.2 million, which has been renewed for 2008.
His firm provides lobbying services for two arms companies — Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. The first is vying for a $10 billion contract from the Indian Air Force, for the provision of 126 fighters. Similarly, Northrop Grumman is trying to acquire contracts for supplying high-end radars and other equipment to India..“The government has no business appointing an agent of American arms companies as their own agent, especially when those companies are vying for Indian contracts,” said Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan.
The practice of employing agents in defence deals was banned after the Bofors scandal, which led to the downfall of the Rajiv Gandhi government in the late eighties. Consequently, many Indian arms agents are still facing trials in various courts.
With his job of lobbying for the arms companies, Blackwill also fulfils the criteria by which agents are defined under the ban in India — somebody who is not an employee of the firm with whom the government is considering or negotiating with for any defence contract..The former US ambassador’s involvement in the defence deals was noticed here only after India recently cancelled the $1 billion European helicopter contract.
Ahead of the government’s decision to call off the contract at the last moment, Blackwill was in Delhi holding extensive meetings with the National Security Adviser (NSA) MK Narayanan, Deputy NSA Shekhar Dutt and others.
Speculation is rife here that Blackwill was lobbying for American Bell Helicopter Corporation, which lost out in the field trials. His office in New York has, however, denied any connection between Blackwill and the Bell Helicopter manufacturers. A statement issued by his office said the former US ambassador did not discuss helicopter contracts in New Delhi. But, his office has not denied Blackwill’s connection with F-17 manufacturers and other companies vying for the Indian defence contracts.
It is said that Blackwill’s proximity to the Indian government and his involvement in the Indo-US nuclear deal has helped several American firms to clinch contracts, and not just in the defence sector — Blackwill has also been negotiating with other ministries such Telecom, as AT&T is one of his clients. Advocate Bhushan has questioned the government’s decision to hire a lobbying firm to influence decision-making in the US. He says the government, which is bound by laws passed by the Indian Parliament, is violating one such law called the Prevention of Corruption Act — an Act that holds illegal efforts to influence a public servant. And this, he says, is what the Indian government is actively pursuing by hiring Blackwill in the US..
“Blackwill is there only because of his official connections, because he can exercise influence over public servants. In India, it would be an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, that is, to pay somebody to influence a public servant in the discharge of his duties. Why should the government of India do that abroad if it is illegal in India?” Bhushan asks.