Facing a volley of allegations linked to the Adani Group controversy during the stormy budget session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday hit back at the opposition’s charges. But did he?
Opposition leaders, including Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, have claimed that PM Modi “facilitated” the exponential rise of the Adani Group, which is now mired in controversy ever since the Hindenburg accused it of “stock manipulation” and “accounting fraud”. The opposition continues to press for its demand for a joint parliamentary panel probe into the allegations, with parliamentary proceedings being repeatedly disrupted.
On Wednesday, as Modi rose to participate in the debate on the motion of thanks to the President's Address, he spoke for around 78 minutes, his speech interspersed with wisecracks and shayari. However, he skirted the A-word and left Gandhi’s five questions unanswered.
Gandhi had on Tuesday asked:
"How many times did you (Modi) travel together with (Adani Group chairman Gautam) Adani on foreign trips?"
"How many times did Adani join you later on a visit?"
"How many times did Adani travel to a foreign country just after you did?"
"How many of these countries you visited have given contracts to Adani?"
"How much money has Adani given to the BJP in the last 20 years through electoral bonds?"
The Congress MP also sought answers to why rules were “changed” to “give six airports to Adani”. He alleged that probe agencies were used to further Adani’s businesses and the Sri Lankan government was “pressured” by Modi to give a wind power project to Adani. The Wayanad MP had one suggestion too: Harvard University should undertake a study on how to use government power to build individual businesses.
Many of Gandhi’s remarks were expunged. On Wednesday, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey requested the Lok Sabha speaker to take action against the Congress MP for making such remarks without evidence and allegedly breaching his parliamentary privilege.
Let’s take a look at how the PM responded to the allegations.
No word on Adani
Before his eagerly awaited speech, Modi’s sartorial choices created a little Twitter storm. Not a storm in a teacup, it seemed. “The jacket PM Narendra Modi is wearing today is made of material recycled from plastic bottles,” announced one. This was immediately after he entered the Rajya Sabha in the morning.
Around four hours later, Modi took charge in the Lok Sabha.
The prime minister did not answer any of the questions but instead advised the opposition to introspect. He dredged up the previous Congress-led UPA government’s missteps, terming the 10 years of UPA government as the “lost decade”.
He rattled off his government’s feats. Strict action against terrorism, peace in J&K after scrapping its special status, free gas cylinders, affordable housing, more airports, infrastructure, education for girls, etc. There were too many to count. Modi went from local to global. Quoting Murmu’s speech, he said, “India has become a means to solve world’s problems.”
Foreign contracts and Adani
Modi began with his inimitable takedown: “I was watching yesterday. After the speeches of a few people, some people were happily saying, ‘Ye hui na baat.’ Maybe they slept well and couldn't wake up (on time). For them it has been said, ‘Ye keh keh ke hum dil ko behla rahe hain, wo ab chal chuke hain, wo ab aa rahe hain.” The couplet loosely translates into: “We have been comforting ourselves by telling ourselves that they have left and that they are arriving.”
Alluding to Gandhi’s allegation about foreign contracts for Adani, Modi lamented the “contradiction in the Congress party”. “Since 2014, they (opposition) have been groaning that India has weakened; nobody is listening to India; India has no existence on the (world stage). What else was not said about India!”
He could not hide his glee at this juncture. “Now what they are saying is that India is making other countries take decisions.” Gales of laughter and thumping of desks followed. “Arre, first decide whether India has weakened or become stronger.”
Gandhi had alleged that contracts to Adani in Australia, Sri Lanka, Israel and Bangladesh were influenced by the Modi government. He alleged that the chairman of Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Electricity Board informed a parliamentary hearing last June that President Rajapaksa had told him about “pressure” from Modi to give a wind power contract to Adani. He alleged that Adani got drone contracts from Israel though the group does not have any expertise in the field.
‘Misuse’ of investigating agencies
Opposition parties have been alleging that investigating agencies were misused by the Centre. Gandhi alleged that the Mumbai airport was taken away from GVK Group and handed to Adani “by using agencies like CBI and ED”. A month before GVK Group allowed Adani group to acquire Mumbai and Navi Mumbai airports, and CBI conducted raids at GVK group promoters’ properties in July 2020.
Modi saw this differently. He asked opposition parties to be thankful to ED. Why? Read this: “A lot has been against anti-corruption agencies. I have seen that most opposition parties were singing the same tune. I used to feel that poll defeats would bring opposition parties together. That did not happen. But they should thank the ED for helping to bring them together on one platform.”
Harvard study on Modi-Adani ties
In his speech, Gandhi looked up to Harvard University and other business schools and suggested if they could write a case study on Adani’s exponential rise allegedly spurred by the government. “There should be a case study by business schools such as Harvard on the relationship between business and politics, India is a case study...the PM should get a gold medal in this.”
Before Harvard, Modi took note. He instead drew the opposition’s attention towards a Harvard study titled “The rise and decline of India’s Congress party”. “Here, there is a craze about studies by Harvard University. In the past, there was a good study by Harvard. Very important study. The topic of the study, I would like to tell Parliament, was ‘The rise and decline of India’s Congress party’.”
He continued, “The study has been completed. I believe that not only Harvard, other prominent universities will also study the fall of the Congress party and the fall guys.”
Bharat Jodo Yatra
After a positive response to his 4,000-km Bharat Jodo Yatra, Gandhi cajoled lawmakers to undertake such yatras to remain in touch with the grassroots. He recalled how he met people from all walks of life and how they rated the BJP government on its recent decisions, including the Agniveer scheme. He said some people wondered how Adani had become the second richest man, rising from “the 609th spot in 2014”.
Without referring to the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Modi turned to poet Dushyant Kumar. “Tumhare paav ke neeche koi jameen nahi. Kamal ye hain ki phir bhi tumhe yakeen nahi.” The English translation sounds unpolished. “There is no ground beneath your feet. The wonder is that you don’t believe it.”
On how times have changed over the years in Jammu and Kashmir where now “democracy is celebrated”, he said, “Those who have recently been to Jammu and Kashmir must have seen how freely they could visit it.”
The Bharat Jodo Yatra recently concluded its last leg in the valley.
Modi compared the recent visits by “some people” with his trip in 1992. He recalled how he braved several terror threats to unfurl the Tricolour at Lal Chowk in Srinagar. He used the comparison to drive home the point that peace has dawned on Jammu and Kashmir. “Today, every house holds a successful ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign. People used to say that Tricolour will vitiate the atmosphere. Look at the changing times and the irony that they (opposition) have also joined the Tiranga Yatra.”
The final barrier
While Modi steered clear of allegations against Adani Group in the wake of the Hindenburg report, his counterattack also relied on support from sections availing welfare schemes. He asked how people availing welfare schemes on farm income, toilets, housing and free gas cylinders will be able to accept the opposition’s “baseless allegations” and “lies”. “Your allegations have to pass through crores of people who were forced by you to live a miserable life for decades.”
Burnishing his credentials and his sacrifice, he implied that he was self-made. “Trust in Modi is not because of newspaper headlines. Trust in Modi is not because of shiny faces on TV channels. I have sacrificed my life and every moment of it for the countrymen. And for the bright future of the country.” On cue, chants of “Modi, Modi, Modi” reverberated through the hall, drowning out the opposition's slogans of “Adani, Adani, Adani” and “JPC, JPC, JPC”.
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