Congress believes the Adani issue can lead to more such charges, that its campaign will split the corporate world & draw a section towards the Congress, and will help them woo small traders.
The Opposition members — led by the Congress — Wednesday sought in vain to march to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) headquarters from Parliament to file a ‘complaint’ against the Adani Group and its alleged fraudulent activities.
This was the third day in a row — since the second half of the Budget session began — that the party had gone all guns blazing against the alleged ‘Adani-Modi relationship’.
The MPs from the Congress and at least 16 other parties weren’t allowed beyond Parliament area by the Delhi police.
In the previous session, the Congress’ attack against industrialist Gautam Adani was based on the findings of the US-based research firm Hindenburg. In this session, however, it was the Congress’ response to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s demand for an apology from its leader Rahul Gandhi for his “democracy-in-danger” comment made in the UK.
The Congress’ sustained focus on Adani has many asking if this is a redux of the ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ (the guard is the thief) and Rafale scam tropes that proved electorally disastrous for the Congress in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
However, Gandhi and the party leadership believe that the Adani issue is different. Multiple Congress leaders, including parliamentarians, ThePrint spoke to said there are three reasons for this belief.
First, the party thinks that unlike Rafale, which was just one scam or deal, the Adani issue can be the beginning of many more such charges that can take away the “incorruptible” halo around Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Second, the party believes its campaign will split the corporate world and draw a section of them towards the Congress once they are convinced that the Adani group is being unfairly favoured by the government, leaving others to fend for themselves.
Third, the party is also using the Adani issue to target small traders who they have been trying to woo by insinuating that the BJP is destroying small businesses. And if small businesses are suffering and the business of one man is becoming better, it is bound to have an electoral impact.
Talking to ThePrint, Congress’s general secretary in-charge of communications, Jairam Ramesh, said the messaging is largely working.
“I believe most people are convinced that Adani would not have been able to do what he did without the PM’s involvement. Will it yield electoral gain? That depends on our party organisation,” he said.
Will the Congress strategy work?
The first question, though, is whether Adani can ‘stick’ as a corruption issue given that allegations of stock price manipulation etc. are difficult for the common man to understand. It has a much more difficult syntax than, for example, the Commonwealth Game (CWG) scam that proved to be instrumental in bringing down the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2014. The Congress leaders believe it will.
“With Adani, there is the data and the easy numbers to show that his ranking in the world’s richest has gone up from 609 to 2nd in the world in a short span of time,” said a source working on the party’s strategy in the run up to 2024 elections.
The source added: “You can argue that Rafale was difficult to understand and that CWG (scam) was easy to understand. But the BJP’s poll plank at the time wasn’t just CWG. It was 2G also. It was a bunch of incidents which tied the Congress to corruption. Rafale was one deal and we went with it. Here, the Adani scam may not be one entire poll issue, but it can make way for other such issues to come out — other skeletons to come out of the closet — which will then show that this really is a ‘suit boot ki sarkar’.
The second question many are asking is if the Congress will be able to sustain this narrative against the PM and Adani.
To this, the source mentioned above said the scam itself can’t be a poll plank for 2024, but the party will “milk” it till it can.
“It’s very difficult to talk about one specific scam or individual for a year. From my understanding, there will be cycles (aspects) of this issue that will come to the fore from time to time and each time we’ll have to capitalise on it,” the source said.
Jairam Ramesh, on the other hand, told ThePrint that electoral gains for the Congress, where Adani is concerned, will depend on how the party organises itself around this issue.
“We have to do what we have to do. We are certainly doing our best to unravel the full dimensions of this SuperScam that has taken place with the full knowledge and active association of the PM. We have raised three pointed questions daily for 28 days. We have written to SEBI and RBI. We have held press meets across the country. Whether this will yield electoral gains will depend on the party organisation,” he said.
Crony capitalism & division
ThePrint spoke to various members of the party organisation and MPs who are agitating in Parliament to better understand where the Congress wants to go with the Adani issue.
A Congress MP, who was at a meet of the Congress’ Parliamentary Party (CPP) Monday, chaired by Sonia Gandhi, said that while the party was apprehensive about the privileges committee suspending Rahul Gandhi on the first day of the new session, the plan was to disrupt the House on the Adani issue.
“The opposition is not united on the Adani issue. Some are demanding a JPC (Joint Parliamentary Committee). Some are demanding a Supreme Court-monitored probe. Most regional parties, including some of our allies, have made peace with the Adani group and will not push beyond a point. If the Rahul issue was not brought up, then the Adani issue might have fizzled out in this session,” said the MP.
“But because they brought up the demand for an apology (by Rahul), we moved ahead full steam with Adani. The idea that we are being constantly communicated is that Adani’s links with Modi are clear so we should push to ensure that the linkage between the two stays in public memory. Of course, ‘crony capitalism’ is the overarching issue,” the MP stated.
The source from Gandhi’s team says that while the push is against crony capitalism, the party’s understanding is that it has also created “corporate warfare”. This means that those corporate entities not ‘favoured’ by the government will naturally be antagonistic about Adani’s rise. The party plans to get these corporate entities on its side in a bid to isolate Adani in the corporate ecosystem, the source revealed.
“Those corporates which are opposed to Adani are reaching out to us. More of them will help us so that Adani stops receiving preferential treatment,” said the source, declining to reveal the names of these corporates.
It is also interesting to note that while the Congress and Rahul Gandhi’s’ fight against alleged crony capitalism started with Adani-Ambani jibes, it has totally been focused on Adani ever since the Hindenburg report was released.
Connecting Adani to LIC, targeting small traders
One of the first attempts by the party to connect the Adani issue to the grassroots was by pointing out investments made by Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and State Bank of India (SBI) in these groups.
“On the face of it, this is not an issue that people in rural areas will understand. So, the fact that their money has been invested in the Adani group was important to point out,” said a Congress MP, who was part of protests in Parliament campus today.
When his attention was drawn to ThePrint’s report that LIC would, in fact, make a profit of close to Rs 11,000 crore if it were to sell its shares in Adani, the MP said, “It’s not about how much profit or loss LIC will make. But in principle, public money should not be invested in crony capitalists. That’s the point we are trying to make.”
The source from Rahul Gandhi’s team, quoted above in the copy, also pointed out that the party was trying to win back “small traders” and MSMEs through its campaigns against GST and demonetisation.
“There is a section of small traders who invest in stocks and are aware of how the market works. They will understand this and some of them are also BJP/Modi voters. Since their businesses are suffering (due to GST, among other things), they will also understand that another businessman is making money due to his collusion with the government,” said another party source.