The Curious Case of the Democratic Party of India

Indian embassy in Washington engaged lobbying firm to run obscure entity to influence US lawmakers after abrogation of Article 370

Wellwishers greet Narendra Modi as he arrives at the Indian embassy in Washington in September 2014. US Department of Justice documents show that a mysterious entity called the Democratic Party of India was being operated from the same address as the embassy and was used to lobby US lawmakers following the Modi government’s abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
10 February, 2023

THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF INDIA, an entity whose origins remain obscure, was used to influence US lawmakers’ views on Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, documents show. The Democratic Party of India was represented by Cornerstone Government Affairs, a Washington DC-based consulting firm. Public records in the United States filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act—which imposes public disclosure obligations on persons representing foreign interests—show that the Democratic Party of India was registered with the same address as the Indian embassy: 2107 Massachusetts Avenue. The records also show contracts between the embassy and Cornerstone for “strategic counsel, tactical planning and government relations assistance on policy matters before the U.S. Government, the U.S. Congress, and select state governments, as well as academic institutions and think-tanks.”

In August 2019, the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi announced an end to Article 370, stripping Kashmir of its constitutionally mandated limited autonomy. The move sparked international condemnation and searing reports in major US newspapers, including the Washington Post and the New York Times. By mid-December, prominent Democrats in the US Congress had sponsored two resolutions aimed at the Modi government, both calling on it to respect human rights and one expressing support for Kashmiri self-determination.

In a letter dated 10 December 2019, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who was then the Indian ambassador to the United States—and later served as India’s foreign secretary—wrote to two senior members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives. Shringla repeated the Modi government’s line that Article 370 had been abrogated in the interests of “good governance, economic opportunities and socio-economic justice” and that the situation in Kashmir “has returned to normalcy”—even as the security clampdown, internet blackout and a ban on foreign journalists in the valley continued.

In his letter, Shringla also invited members of the HFAC to an 18 December meeting with S Jaishankar, Modi’s minister of external affairs. Jaishankar went on to abruptly cancel that meeting after Pramila Jayapal, the sponsor of one of the resolutions on Kashmir, was added to the list of attendees on the US side. Jayapal labelled the cancellation as “deeply disturbing.” Other voices such as the Indian-American analyst Ashley J Tellis called it “a missed opportunity” and “ short sighted.”