Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s lengthy reply to the Presidential address in Parliament on February 7, 2023, largely veered around how businessman Gautam Adani’s fortunes have galloped due to his proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is an allegation that Rahul has been making for a long while, but it has got a new life after the release of Hindenburg Research’s 403-page report, which has made specific allegations about the Adani Enterprises and wondered about the identity of the shell companies and the source of billions of dollars that have been funnelled in it to plough it back to India. This serious allegation cannot go away until there is proof to the contrary.
Instead of replying to these allegations, the Speaker of the house got 18 portions of Gandhi’s speech in which he made these allegations expunged. So was Mallikarjun Kharge’s speech in Rajya Sabha and Mahua Moitra’s in Lok Sabha. The government took refuge behind denial and robust nationalism rather than admit that the PM could make a mistake or promote a crony of his. This strategy has its limitations. It’s naïve to believe that the fallout of these allegations can be controlled internally, as the government is trying to do, as the origin of the expose lies abroad.
It is this trajectory of defence that is resonating outside Parliament. Most of the supporters of the BJP have not just defended Modi but also rallied around 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 had been hammered, 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 favourite 'Adani bhai' to tide over this crisis. Till reports came out in Financial Times that there was a margin call from Adani by his debtors like Barclays and Citigroup as the shares that he had pledged had lost their value. Adani had to deposit $1.1 billion to shore up his reputation and shares. Most Adani companies - and they are many - are doing poorly.
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. Besides criticising him and his entire family for pandering to the corrupt, like the agent of Snamprogetti, Ottavio Quattrochhi and others, he also said that Rahul was hurting the credibility of Indian businesses by claiming them to be corrupt.
A journalist, Pranjoy Guha Thakurta, was prevented by the court from speaking or writing 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 government ministers like the voluble finance minister, Nirmala Sitaraman, says that the Adani issue has not really impacted the country, then she has yet to be given copies of The Economist, Bloomberg, and Le Figaro that show Adani and his problems. The Economist also has PM Modi on the cover.
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 can be allowed in the House for a discussion or for a Joint parliamentary probe.
Sanjay Kapoor is a Senior Journalist based out of Delhi. He is a foreign policy specialist focused on India, its neighbourhood and West Asia. He is the Founder and Editor of Hardnews Magazine. He is a Member of the Editors Guild of India (EGI) and, until recently, served as the General Secretary of EGI.