NEW DELHI/ MUMBAI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party has accused billionaire financier-philanthropist George Soros of trying to undermine India’s democracy by predicting that the Adani Group’s woes would loosen the Hindu nationalist leader’s grip on power.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Thursday, 92-year-old Soros said “Modi and business tycoon Adani are close allies; their fate is intertwined” and the conglomerate’s troubles would “significantly weaken Modi’s stranglehold on India’s federal government” and “open the door to push for much needed institutional reforms”, the Financial Times reported.
The seven listed companies of the apples-to-airports Adani Group have together lost about $120bn in market value since a January 24 report by Hindenburg Research alleged the conglomerate improperly used offshore tax havens and manipulated stock, and flagged concerns over its high debt levels.
Modi’s opponents say he has longstanding ties with Gautam Adani, the founder of the group, going back nearly two decades to when Modi was chief minister of the western state of Gujarat.
They also accuse the government of favoring the group in business deals, charges the government has rejected as “wild allegations”.
“A foreign power at the centre of which is a man named George Soros has announced that he will hurt India’s democratic structure. He has announced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be his main target. He has also announced that he will help build a system in India that will protect his interests, not India’s,” Smriti Irani, the federal minister for women and child development, told reporters at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) office.
“This is not just an attempt to hurt India’s image. If you listen to him carefully, he talks of regime change,” she said. “India has always defeated foreign powers whenever it was challenged and will continue to defeat them in the future too.”
Modi has not referred to Adani by name since the crisis triggered by the Hindenburg report, but last week he told parliament that the “blessings of 1.4 billion people in the country are my protective cover and you can’t destroy it with lies and abuses”, as opposition legislators chanted “Adani, Adani”.
Meanwhile, the Indian government has told the country’s top court that “truthfulness” of allegations made by Hindenburg, the United States-based short seller, against the Adani Group should be looked into by a panel proposed to examine investor protection, according to a government document seen by the Reuters news agency.
The Supreme Court is yet to issue an order on setting up the panel and its ambit.
Amid the usual traffic snarls on one of central Mumbai’s busiest overpasses, drivers could hardly help but notice a simple, yet large, hand-painted slogan proclaiming that the rapidly rising wealth of businessmen Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani was a miracle of Narendra Modi’s government.
In the city’s stock market, however, Adani’s wealth, which has increased by more than $100bn in less than a decade, was eroding faster than the paint on the slogan could dry. Adani’s self-named conglomerate grew by running a rapidly increasing share of India’s public infrastructure including ports, airports, power plants and coal mines.