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Acche din: How Gautam Adani’s fortune changed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came into power

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Modi Adani pic

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.

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An Open Letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi

While taking note of your policies, pet projects like ‘Swatchh Abhiyaan’ (Cleanliness Drive) and future plans

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Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
PM Narendra Modi being sworn in for a new term.
Tania Bhattacharya
Tania Bhattacharya.

By Tania Bhattacharya

Dear Prime Minister Modi,

Congratulations on winning the Indian general elections of 2019, and being sworn-in as Prime Minister. While taking note of your policies, pet projects like ‘Swatchh Abhiyaan’ (Cleanliness Drive) and future plans for the nation’s development and progress, I take this opportunity to contribute my two cents as a thinking Indian citizen, as to what you could do more. So, allow me, to bring your attention to some unresolved matters in the interest of human civility, that the Indian state should feel obliged to tend to. 

CHINESE-INDIANS

Chinese Indians are those, that are descended from Chinese immigrants to India. Emigrating Chinese people to India have traditionally belonged to the Hakka region. Historically originating from the northern parts of their homeland, they had settled in the southern areas of China around the thirteenth century. Guangxi and Guangdong are some of the places that they were living in, before they decided to migrate to India. Cities and provinces in China’s south, which are in close proximity to India, tend to have a multicultural outlook, with cuisines that have been heavily influenced by India’s spice trade. Guangdong and Guangxi are no different. Hakka Chinese were here with the intention of advancing their trade and making themselves prosperous, but a large number took to us, and made the decision of adopting India as their new homeland. I do not find this out of the ordinary.

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Chinese children in China Town, Tangra, Kolkata.

For over two thousand years, India has witnessed the arrival of asylum seeking foreigners who have ultimately enriched our history with their presence. There have been the Hellenic Greeks, the Huns of German descent who converted to Hinduism or Buddhism and settled down with Indian spouses, the Indo-Greek rulers like the Bactrians who were no different in their attitude toward us, the Chinese students and travellers who entered India during the first millennium for the study of Buddhism, the Siddhi black Africans who have retained intact their Islamic faith, the Zoroastrians who have likewise had never had their religion interfered with, the Greeks who were fleeing Ottoman persecution, the Armenians, the Jews, the Tibetans who escaped their occupied territories in order to lead respectable lives, and the Afghan merchants and the Bhutias from Bhutan, both of whom have always arrived here from time to time, for a quick buck. None of them have complained of systematic, state-sponsored discrimination against them. 

Due to the unfortunate events of 1962 between our northern neighbour and ourselves, Chinese Indians were unlawfully interned in concentration camps at Rajasthan. During the time of their internment, their homes and properties were seized and taken over, leaving them with nothing after they were freed. This reminds one of the similar fate that had befallen Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. It seems, the Indian government never found the time or the inclination to render a genuine, and heartfelt apology to the people who have suffered unnecessarily simply as a result of their Chinese heritage. It is appalling, that even during present times, and despite your party’s five year rule in India with the sixth one running, Chinese Indians are not allowed citizenship rights in this country. It would be a wonderful gesture, if you found it in you to not only apologize to them on the behalf of all Indians, but also removed the clause that prevents them from acquiring citizenship in India. It would go a long way in healing the wounds.

SIDDHI RAPPROACHMENT

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As mentioned under the previous header, Siddhis have been here as first, our esteemed guests and then as our lawful fellow citizens, beginning with the eighth century. For decades, India, her people, and her politicians, have openly favoured spectator-sports like Cricket, Lawn Tennis, Football, and even Hockey, over athletic categories which feature at the Olympic events. We have gone so far as to turn our backs against South Asia’s indigenous games like Kabaddi, and Kho Kho. Isn’t this ironic, given that South Asia had presented the world with homegrown games such as Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, and Chess? Over the last decade, some improvement seems to have been made as regards our demeanour towards Kabaddi, with India now flaunting this ancient, homegrown product for the world to witness. Many teams from foreign nations participate in the annual Kabaddi contests that are being organized.

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Kamala Babu Siddi in the centre, with her daughters.
Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
17-year-old sprinting champion Ravikiran Siddi, holding his medal.

Siddhis are of Bantu African origin whose talents had once been harvested by the SAI (Sports Authority of India). Assuming that their Black African genetics had enabled them to excel at sports. SAI established SAG (Special Area Games) in the latter half of the 1980s, with an eye to train the potential Siddhi medal winners for India. From an existence in ignominy, the Sidhhis were elevated to a level of importance that they had revelled in. The efforts had reaped recognizable dividends. Kamala Babu Siddhi emerged as one of India’s top medal winners. At the young age of 15, she partook in the Women’s Pentathlon event, and broke the record. But the euphoria was short lived. Due to a lack of infrastructure and planning, the SAG was put to sleep by our SAI. Even though in recent times, with the help of Siddhi Indian athlete and trainer Judge Jackie Harnodkar, training seems to have been revived, it is doubtful, that the zeal and fervour of the previous phase will reveal itself.

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Judge Jackie Harnodkar.

I would urge you Prime Minister Modi, to set up special training camps for posterity, to mine the latent sporting talents of our Siddhi sisters and brothers. 

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NETAJI FILES

Unlike Rahul Gandhi and the Congress, who expectedly, did not commit to any further progress over the whereabouts of Indian anti-colonial freedom revolutionary Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, you and your party have maintained, that revelations to finally bring closure for millions of Netaji’s fans and supporters, is a priority of yours. 

In the first phase of your administration that lasted from twenty fourteen to twenty nineteen, you did make good on your promise. A number of hitherto classified files on the fate of India’s most famed armed revolutionary (along with Hutaatma Bhagat Singh), were declassified and placed in the public domain with the aim of making them accessible to researchers who are keen to determine Netaji’s whereabouts, post the August of nineteen forty five.

Very quickly, those interested in the case of Netaji learned however, that the revealed files were the convenient ones, parroting the same worldview that has remained the standard lie of previous central governments. Your office went to the extent of declaring, that the crucial material pertaining to the case would be withheld at all cost, since it would negatively affect India’s relations with a number of foreign countries. What a feeling of déjà vu, Sir! This is what we, the admirers of one of India’s great children had felt, when Congress ruled India had been recalcitrant over the declassification issue. Why the kick to our bellies, Mr. Prime Minister? Why are you aping the people you politically despise, when it comes to the crucial problem of Right to Information? A significant number of Netaji’s supporters were responsible in voting you to power. Have you no responsibility toward this section?

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Of the sixty four Netaji files that were declassified, none stood out, much to the chagrin of investigators.

Another nagging question remains. How can India’s foreign relations with the world be abruptly hampered, when the events under purview, took place a number of generations previously, when South Asia was under colonial domination? Something is certainly amiss, here! What is it that you do not want the Indian populace to fathom? Presumably, you have had a look at the aforementioned files, and have seen something in them, that terrified you, and determined your current course of action. What was it that fazed you this much? Or did you discover that the trope of India’s foreign relations being affected, was superseded by the fact, that Netaji was harmed by political forces within South Asia? What is the truth, and how long do we have to wait, for a genuine closure, Sir? There are people, and perfectly sane, respectable ones at that, who have gingerly linked the questionable ‘natural’ death of former Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, to Netaji’s fate. I am sure you are in knowledge of this. Many of the theorists, belong to your party. They are not kidding, when they claim what they do. 

I hope, you will find it in yourself, to come clean on incidents that happened during the Second World War, and can no longer affect post-independence India’s proximity to her friends. Researchers on Netaji, shall not rest, until the truth is known. Don’t leave us, in the lurch.

JAMSHEDPUR AIRPORT

Jamshedpur is one of India’s planned cities, and ranks at number one, on the scale of cleanliness, where eastern India is concerned. Owned by the Tata group of companies, it is the location of one of the world’s largest steel production units, as you may be aware. In 2018, Tata Steel Limited, was ranked eleventh, globally, by the World Steel Association, in terms of tonnage of production. 

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Jamshedpur, also known as Tatanagar after its Zoroastrian founder, Jamsetji Tata, has no airport dedicated to domestic or international travel. This one is exclusively for dignitaries who visit the city.

A progressive and developed urban town, Jamshedpur has all that an infrastructure specialist would desire; malls, parks, zoos, gardens, shopping centres, lakes, hills, real estate, thriving public and private sectors, educational institutions, and dependable law enforcement. This bustling metropolis, which contributes substantially to India’s growth and per capita income, lacks an airport, Mr. Prime Minister. Isn’t this paradoxical? A city teeming with people who frequently travel outside for work, education, business, and research, is yet to have their own airport! At present, natives of Jamshedpur can only access flights by first travelling to the nearby city of Ranchi. It is a kind of travesty, if you ask me.

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
XLRI, Xavier’s Labour Research Institute located at Jamshedpur, is one of India’s best.
Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Graduates from the iconic XLRI Management School, Jamshedpur.

An airport has been in the pipeline for as long as the residents can remember. It was proposed to be built at the location of Sonari, but any chance for domestic and/or international flights from the area, have come to naught. It is vital Sir, that Jamshedpur be duly presented with its very own air terminal, in as shortest a time as possible. Negotiations with the Tatas and the local aboriginal population must be achieved right away.