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Adani Row: Does expunging problems really help?

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. Read on!

By Sanjay Kapoor
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publive-image Parliament of India | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

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 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 levelled against him. Instead, the defence of the Adanis 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 in the list of global tycoons. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aggressive chest thumping while building his defence about his policies was not an adequate answer to some simple questions that were raised in Parliament.

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.

The grief of the party and its legion of supporters will aggravate if the details of the mysterious billions come out from tax havens from where the funds were flowing into the Adani companies. The BJP leaders displayed 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. 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.

Later, the same allegation, with perhaps more colour, was made by Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, who further hinted at the Congress party’s role in the Hindenburg expose. This betrays 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 the Gujarat riots and 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 the allegations.

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.

Opposition parties see this move as a smothering of democracy, but the BJP is such a regimented party that there is no murmur of dissatisfaction in the ranks. If Congress had been in power, some leaders would have stepped out of the organisation. Remember the revolt of 1977 by Jagjivan Ram or Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna that brought Congress to its heels after the emergency? What happens next?


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.