Why drag Adani-Ambani to politics?

Witness Modi's counter to Gandhi's attacks on Adani & Ambani, sparking a heated political duel. Explore the role of businesses in Indian politics, contrasting with the US, where business leaders openly declare affiliations.

Pratik Sharma
Updated On
New Update
ambani adani lok sabha elections 2024

Adani Ambani in Lok Sabha elections

Listen to this article
0.75x 1x 1.5x
00:00 / 00:00

The irony of using two corporate giants — the industries of Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani — for politics was not lost on anyone. After all, it was during the Congress’ rule that India’s economy was liberalised and both established their businesses and flourished and both continue to do business with states where Congress had or has governments.

He famously told news agency PTI in 2014:

“When we began acquiring land at Mundra in 1993, (Chief Minister) Chimanbhai Patel charged us 10 paise per square metre. (BJP government led by) Keshubhai Patel (in 1995) charged us Re 1 per sq mt and Shankersinh Vaghela (led Rashtriya Janata Party) in 1996-07, charged Rs 1.5 per sq mt.”

But the question is whether businesses are fair game in a political battle.

Look at the history of Indian politics and elections. Even after Independence, similar attacks were made. The slogan during the protests against the emergency in the 1970s was ‘Tata Birla ki Sarkar’ – a government of and for the Tatas and Birlas — then the equivalent of Adani and Ambani. The charge was made against Indira Gandhi by the Janta Party and others at the time.

More recently, the Tatas were targeted again, this time by Mamata Banerjee. She used a proposed car factory that the Tatas were to set up under the communist state government in Bengal to fire up her career. So, while the communists, who have always opposed private industry, were now wooing the biggest industrialist of the time, Mamata Banerjee was blocking it!

The Tata Nano factory finally moved to Gujarat, welcomed by then chief minister Narendra Modi. Banerjee went on the thrash the left government in the next election and cemented her political position. The Nano factory in the meantime shut down in Gujarat.

Today, the same Mamata Banerjee is doing business with not just the Tatas — ITC is still headquartered in Virginia House, Jawaharlal Nehru Road in Kolkata — but also with the Ambanis and Adanis.

Though the Tata-Birla slogans have now died down, the attack on the Adanis and Ambanis is almost continuous, especially by the Congress, as cover fire to target Modi and the BJP.

Modi wants to create two Indias — one for Adani and the other for the poor — is a line that Rahul Gandhi has used often. He has accused the prime minister of using Adani’s aircraft and protecting his interests.

For that matter, Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party constantly targeted the Ambani brothers to rise in politics. It's a different matter altogether that the first executive decision that Kejriwal took after assuming office for the first time (in the Delhi government that lasted 49 days) was to clear the dues of Anil Ambani's BSES in early 2014. 

After the Hindenburg short-selling attack on Adani, Gandhi and the Congress were party to a demand for a Supreme Court-monitored probe into allegation of stock manipulation, but this was rejected by the court.

Gandhi’s big attack on corporates was the ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’ jibe. It took on the entire business community in his political charge against Modi and the government. The BJP went on to lose the Bihar elections after this, and the losses were partly claimed to be a result of this jibe.

But coming back to the central question: Is it fair for the political class to attack corporate houses for electoral gains?

Before we get into that, a quick diversion to the United States, where the world’s biggest businesses thrive.

Say a Warren Buffet. Or an Elon Musk in a more recent context. Their political positions are public and transparent. Buffet has often said that he is a Democrat. Musk is also very clear about being inclined towards Republicans, especially Donald Trump. Trump himself is a businessman who went on to become president.

So, why is the Indian election season tough on Indian businesses? Take a look at just the Adanis, since they are in the public eye of late.

Consider Adani’s contributions to the Indian economy.

Adani in the Indian economy

  • Infrastructure Development: Adani Group has invested over $15 billion in infrastructure projects, including ports, airports and roads.
  • Port Development: Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone (APSEZ) operates 12 ports in India. APSEZ handles over 400 million metric tonnes of cargo annually, contributing significantly to India's maritime trade.
  • Renewable Energy: Adani Green Energy is one of the largest renewable energy companies in India. The company has a total renewable energy capacity of over 15 gigawatts (GW), including both operational and under-construction projects.
  • Power Generation: Adani Power has a total installed capacity of over 12 GW. Adani Power's Mundra plant, one of the world's largest coal-fired power plants, has a capacity of 4.6 GW.
  • Coal Mining: Adani Enterprises operates several coal mines in India and overseas. Adani Enterprises is the largest coal trading company in India, handling over 80 million metric tonnes of coal annually.
  • Logistics and Trading: Adani Ports handles over 250 million metric tonnes of cargo annually across its ports. Adani Logistics operates over 12 logistics parks and manages over 1.5 million square meters of warehousing space.
  • Job Creation: Adani Group employs over 100,000 people directly across its various businesses. Indirectly, Adani Group's projects have created hundreds of thousands of additional jobs in sectors such as construction, transportation, and services.
  • Foreign Investment: Adani Group has attracted over $25 billion in foreign investment across its projects. Foreign investors in the Adani Group include institutions from countries like Singapore, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. 43,000 jobs across the world.

It is not merely about adding to India’s economy and creating jobs. The conglomerate also projects the hard edge of India’s economic power globally. The acquisition of the Haifa port in Israel, the development of a terminal in Colombo along with the US government, along with investments in Sri Lankan solar projects are some prime examples. The apples-to-airports giant is also in talks to take over two ports in Greece.

These are not merely business interests. They are also strategic moves that will help India and her allies fend off the China threat. The Israeli and Greek ports are placed along the proposed India-Middle East-Europe (IMEC) corridor which was proposed at the G20 meeting in New Delhi.

Which then brings up the other key question: what has forced Modi to bring Adani and Ambani into his political rhetoric? This is probably the first time in the 10 years that he has done this. It has set off an immediate political buzz.

Congress Gautam Adani Adani Ports Rahul Gandhi Narendra Modi BJP