Troubling questions that need answers - GulfToday

Troubling questions that need answers

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Narendra Modi, Gautam Adani

Narendra Modi, Gautam Adani

The Modi establishment faced a double whammy as India was celebrating Republic Day last week. Even as it was trying to contain the fallout of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s documentary “India: the Modi question”, the US activist group Hindenburg Research shook the business empire of Gautam Adani to which the Modi government has entrusted some key infrastructure projects.

The BBC’s two-part documentary contained nothing new. The first part dealt with the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat soon after Narendra Modi became the state’s Chief Minister. The national media had covered them fairly and extensively at the time of occurrence.

The second part of the documentary dealt with the constitutional amendments which ended Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and introduced religion as a criterion in the grant of Indian citizenship. Although the media is now extra sensitive to the regime’s interests, the people had ample opportunities to learn of these measures and their implications. The amended Citizenship Act had led to widespread protests in many parts of the country. Essentially what the BBC did was to remind the people of what they already knew.

Some leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party raised the question why this reminder now. Apparently they suspect that the matter has been raked up to spoil the BJP’s prospects in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

This is far-fetched. Approach of the Republic Day was a good enough reason for a media organisation to schedule a special programme on India. If the intention was to influence the election outcome, one should think the programme was aired too early.

The government banned the documentary in India. It also directed social media platforms to remove all links to the documentary. Twitter was among those who quickly acted on the directive.

The ban had a contrary effect. Some opposition parties and their student affiliates organised screening of the documentary in public places and college and university campuses.

In some places, the authorities stopped the screening and arrested those who organised it.

In states under non-BJP governments, workers of the BJP and its student and youth affiliates attempted to block the screening, leading to disturbances.

The net result of the protests and counter-protests is that far more people are watching the documentary than would have been the case if the government and the ruling party had not created a fuss about it.

The documentary is unlikely to affect the BJP’s poll prospects adversely. Modi, whom the BJP had sent to Gujarat to replace an unpopular Chief Minister, called fresh Assembly elections immediately after the riots, and the party returned to power, benefitting from the communal polarisation.

It was after Modi had led the party to power in three successive elections that the Rashtritya Swayamsevak Sangh asked the BJP to name him its Prime Ministerial candidate. Precipitating polarisation has been a key element of Modi’s strategy in parliamentary elections too. Something that brings back memories of Gujarat 2002 is, therefore, likely to help and not hurt the BJP.

What should worry Modi is the Hindenburg report which last week knocked off more than $22 billion from Gautam Adani’s wealth, bringing it down to $96.8 billion, and toppled him from the second place to the seventh in the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires. Share prices of the Adani companies fell by 5 per cent to 20 per cent on Friday.

Gautam Adani’s proximity to Narendra Modi has been a matter of public knowledge sine the businessman lent his personal aircraft for his 2014 election tour.

Hindenburg Research accused Adani of stock market manipulation, and said the share prices of its seven companies listed on the stock exchange were overvalued. It posed more than 80 questions to the Adani group.

Adani’s initial reaction was to dismiss the allegations as malicious and hint at possible legal action against Hindenburg. As share prices crashed, changing tack, it characterised the Hindenburg repot as an attack on India and came out with its replies to Hindenburg’s queries.

Hindenburg said Adani had not replied to more than 60 of its questions. It went on to insinuate that Adani was the one who was damaging India’s interests. Adani’s rank in the list of billionaires is not a matter of concern to the people of India, but the fate of his companies is. In the popular mind the Adani group is today the supreme example of crony capitalism. Its growth under Modi has been phenomenal. It has investments in ports, airports roads, rail and power.

According to a financial commentator, Indian investors have known for years that Adani Enterprises Ltd., the fulcrum of the group, is loaded down with debt, and that the ultimate source of its funding is remarkably opaque.

The Modi government has been silent on the Hindenburg report. The Securities and Exchange Board of India, the market regulator, which recently looked into some complaints about the Adani group, too is. Both must assure the public that all steps have been taken to ensure that the Adani group’s troubles do not hit the major development projects entrusted to it.

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