Opposition parties see this as smothering of democracy.
by Sanjay Kapoor
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s long reply to the Presidential address in the parliament on February 7, 2023, largely veered around how businessman Gautam Adani’s fortunes have risen due to his proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This allegation that Gandhi has been leveling for a good long while got a new lease of life after the release of Hindenburg Research’s 403-page report which has made specific allegations against the Adani Enterprises and wondered about the identity of the shell companies and the source of the billions of dollars that have been funneled into it to plough it back to India. These are serious allegations that cannot go away till there is a proof to the contrary.
Instead of replying to these allegations, the Speaker of the house got 18 portions of Gandhi’s speech, where he made these allegations, expunged. Mallikarjun Kharge’s speech in Rajya Sabha and Mahua Moitra’s in Lok Sabha met a similar treatment. The government took refuge behind denial and robust nationalism. This strategy has its limitations. Owing to the fact that the origin of the expose` lies abroad, it’s naïve to believe that the fallout can be controlled internally, as the government is trying to do.
It has been many weeks since this report was released, but there has been no attempt by the government and its legion of courtiers to provide a cogent answer to many of the charges that are leveled against Adani. Instead, the defence of Adani has been cloaked in a national flag and these allegations have been presented as an attack on a good industrialist by the jealous white race that cannot stomach his phenomenal rise to the second position on the list of global tycoons. Prime Minister Modi’s aggressive chest thumping while building a defence of his policies was not an adequate answer to some simple questions that were raised by the Congress leader.
It is this trajectory of defence that is resonating outside the Parliament. Most of the supporters of the BJP have not just defended Modi, but have also rallied behind Adani who is seen as a businessman on a mission to make India great again.
For a few days after the shares of Adani companies took a hammering, there was a short rally of the company. Clearly, all the party supporters had stepped out to put their money where their mouth was to support their favorite Adani bhai to tide over this crisis till reports came out in Financial Times that Adani faced a margin call from his debtors like Barclays, Citigroup, as his shares that he had pledged had lost their value. Adani had to deposit $1.1 billion to shore up shares and repuatation. Most of the Adani companies—and they are many—are doing badly.
The grief of the party and its legion of supporters will aggravate if the details of the mysterious billions come out from the tax havens from where the funds were flowing into the Adani companies.
True to their wont, the BJP leaders are displaying aggression rather than introspecting on what could go wrong with their support of Adani.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was removed as a minister a few years ago for inexplicable reasons, was wheeled to take on Rahul’s criticism of the government, which included bad mouthing him and his entire family. Prasad said that Gandhi was hurting the credibility of the Indian businesses. Later, the same allegations, with perhaps more color, were made by Law Minister Kiren Rijiju who further hinted at Congress party’s role in the Hindenburg expose`.
This portrays an unresolved colonial hangover as the government responds only when the criticism emanates from the West. The same trait was seen when the BBC documentary on Gujarat was aired last month. Bizarrely, the government invoked emergency powers and banned the viewing of the documentary that showed the criminal handling of the Gujarat riots of 2002. Both in the case of the BBC documentary on Gujrat riots and on Hindenburg’s Adani report, so much had been written and spoken in India, but the government or the ruling party did not pay any attention to any of those allegations.
Journalist Pranjoy Guha Thakurta was prevented by court to speak about or write on this issue. In fact, he lost his job with Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) due to his expose` on Adani and his fortunes. So if the government ministers, like the voluble finance minister Nirmala Sitaraman, say that the Adani issue has not really impacted the country then they have not seen the copies of The Economist, Bloomberg, Le Figaro that covered Adani and his problems. The Economist also has PM Modi on the cover.
Though Congress has been demanding an enquiry into Adani’s phenomenal growth, there is nothing to challenge the charge of proximity that he enjoyed with the PM.
Understandably, the government chose to get the Speaker to expunge remarks that show the government in poor light. But does that work? It’s really unusual that the Speaker was asking the opposition leaders to prove their charges before they could even be allowed in the House for a discussion or for a joint parliamentary probe.
Opposition parties see this move as smothering of democracy, but the BJP is such a regimented party that there is no murmur of dissatisfaction in the ranks. Had the Congress been in power, in all likelihood, there would have been some leaders stepping out of the organization. Remember the revolt of 1977 by Jagjivan Ram or Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna that brought the Congress to its heels after the Emergency. It would be interesting to see how the story pans out further. Fingers crossed!
Sanjay Kapoor is the editor of the New Delhi-based Hardnews magazine.