By Harshmeet Singh
Gujarat. 1980s. A grey coloured Bajaj Super scooter, making rounds of the Government offices, was a common sight on the roads of Ahmedabad. While the driver, Gautam Adani, was looking for a breakthrough to make it big in life, the pillion rider, Malay Mahadevia, had the responsibility of interacting with the Government officials in fluent English. Cut to 2015. That Bajaj Super scooter owner today owns a Ferrari, a fleet of BMWs, three helicopters, three Bombardier and Beechcraft planes. And what’s more? He is considered as one of the closest aides of the country’s most powerful man – Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
For decades now, the top of the tongue examples for leading industrialists in the country have been ‘Tata, Birla & Ambani’. But in the past decade or so, this settled order has seen disruption and is taking a new shape – ‘‘Tata, Birla, Ambani & Adani’. But interestingly, while it took many decades for the other business houses to become the flag bearers of Indian industry, the Adani group managed to gain similar limelight in a relatively lesser time. All thanks to a magic wand? Or is there something else that fails to meet the eye?
Adani – Modi bonhomie
Gautam Adani’s closeness with Narendra Modi is no secret. This, perhaps, has worked in his favour. From the time Narendra Modi was declared as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate (13th September 2013) to even before the general elections in April – May 2014, the net market capitalization of Adani Enterprises, Adani Port and SEZ Ltd and Adani Power had risen by 85.35% to value over Rs 95,925 crore. During the same period, the jump in Sensex was 14.76%.
Having diverse interests including real estate, oil, power, gas, coal and logistics, the Adani Group is today the largest private power producer in the country. The group is also the largest private coal importer in the country and handles the largest private port in India at Mundra.
By the time Modi took over as the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001, the Adani Group had transformed into an infrastructure company, leaving behind its humble beginnings as an export house. Under fire after the Godhra riots and the devastating Bhuj earthquake in the state that took place soon after he assumed office, Modi tried to divert everyone’s attention by asking the industrial houses to invest in the state. While Modi’s first such call was overlooked by most of the industrialists, it was a group of Gujarati businessmen, flocking behind Gautam Adani who ensured that Modi’s idea of an industrial Gujarat didn’t become a flop. Since then, Adani-Modi duo has been inseparable.
Modi the PM – Adani’s saviour
In January last year, the Gujarat High Court declared Adani owned Mundra SEZ in Gujarat as ‘illegal’. The High Court found that the SEZ was built without attaining the requisite environmental clearances. According to the law, the central environment ministry needs to approve the project before the construction of SEZ can begin. The Supreme Court declined to change the High Court’s order but allowed the existing tenants to continue working in the SEZ.
Realizing that the closing down of the SEZ would results in heavy loss of job and infrastructure, the High Court allowed the Central Government to look into the matter and grant a belated clearance, if it finds it satisfactory. While the UPA government didn’t take a decision on the issue, the Modi Government, within a couple of months of assuming office, gave the required clearances and prepared the ground for upcoming ‘Achche din’ for Adani.
Modi’s travel companion
While Narendra Modi’s frequent foreign tours have caught the attention of everyone in the country, co-travellers during such trips have remained under the wraps. During PM’s recent trip to France, Adani was amongst the audience in the UNESCO when Modi took the stage to deliver a speech. Some sources say that Adani also interacted with Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French President. He was also spotted with the Prime Minister during his trips to Australia, Japan, Brazil and the USA. The PM’s UNGA (United Nations’ General Assembly) speech was also heard by him in person in New York.
Even when Modi undertook tours to China, Singapore and Japan as Gujarat’s chief minister, Adani was a permanent fixture with him.
The latest in the line of Adani’s blockbuster deals during Modi’s tenure was reported in China a couple of days back. Business deals worth $22 billion were signed during Modi’s China visit, a majority of which were bagged by Adani and Bharti. Through these deals, Adani group is hoping to gather finance for its upcoming power projects at the Mundra port in Gujarat.
CAG posed questions to the Gujarat Government
In July last year, the CAG came out with 5 reports highlighting the undue favours given by the Gujarat Government to business houses such as Adani Group and Reliance Petroleum in the financial year ending in March 2013 (Modi was the Gujarat CM then).
According to the report, “non-monitoring of the construction quay in phase 1 of Adani Group-owned Mundra port led to short recovery of Rs 118.12 crore.” Unsurprisingly, no action was taken on the report and it was dumped without giving much attention.
SBI’s $1 billion loan to Adani
One of the most controversial deals that the Adani Group has been a part of since Modi took over as the PM was SBI’s approval of a $1 billion line of credit for its coal mine project in Australia’s Queensland. The largest state run bank in the country faced flak from many corners after signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Adani Group on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Australia.
Considering that some of best known International Banks such as Goldman Sachs, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and Citigroup have stayed away from the project, citing environmental reasons, SBI’s decision seems all the more surprising and fishy. But then this isn’t the first time when the public sector Banks are being pushed to risk a bad credit due to political pressure.
While the Government maintains that the Australian project would help get the much needed coal into India for power production, a number of Australian organizations are already up in arms against it due to the possible damage it would cause to the Great Barrier Reef.
According to some news reports that surfaced a couple of months back, SBI decided to reject the loan request, although SBI marked such news as ‘rumours’ and continued to say that the final decision is still pending approval from the executive committee.
There is no fault in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy of pushing development in the country. But a country of over 120 crore people can’t flourish if the benefits of ‘development’ remain confined to the old and close aides of the people in power. Even if all the allegations of Modi’s friendship with Adani are false, it surely doesn’t give a positive signal when the Prime Minister is seen far more often with a particular industrial baron than with the Aam Aadmi.