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India: Gautam Adani, the powerful billionaire in the service of Modi

For a few weeks, he stalked Elon Musk. Unknown to the general public, Gautam Adani nevertheless climbed, last September, to second position in the Bloomberg ranking of the richest men on the planet. Originally from the state of Gujarat, in western India, the industrialist found himself stuck between the very media Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, respective bosses of SpaceX and Amazon. If he has since lost a place, he is still richer than the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the planet in March 2020, Gautam Adani’s fortune was estimated at $6 billion. Two years later, the Indian magnate weighs 122 billion.

His rise recounts that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It also shows the links between power and business, and, some analysts worry, could well prefigure the political evolution of India in the coming years, namely an even more authoritarian democracy…

Natives of Gujarat, the two men have many things in common. Their meeting dates back to 2002, when the Hindu nationalist led this state. At the time, Narendra Modi was accused of complicity, after the anti-Muslim pogrom which had caused the death of 1,000 to 2,000 people. “Gautam Adani will support the Hindu nationalist. He will appear alongside him on trips to China, Japan, Singapore and Russia”, recalls Christophe Jaffrelot, research director at the CRNS, in a study on Crony Capitalism in India under Narendra Modipublished in 2019.

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A bulimia of loans

A support that will pay him big. During the thirteen years that Modi spent at the head of Gujarat, the turnover of the Adani group has multiplied by more than 20, to reach 9.25 billion euros, underlines this researcher. “In India, the state often plays a leading role in the development of societies. It is in this context that the phenomenal rise of Gautam Adani, particularly in the strategic infrastructure sector, must be seen”, confirms Hemindra Hazari, independent analyst.

At 60, this son of a textile merchant from Ahmedabad finds himself at the head of an empire. The group he founded is the largest private port operator. It is also India’s largest operator of airports, thermal power stations and coal mines. In line with the Indian government’s energy policies, Gautam Adani is also investing billions of dollars in green energy. Last June, the French group Total acquired 25% of Adani New Industries, with the aim of producing and marketing green hydrogen in India.

Built on a bulimia of borrowings, the Adani model nevertheless has weaknesses. The group’s indebtedness worries some analysts, even if, for the moment, the markets do not seem to hold it against it. Shares of Adani Enterprises, of which the billionaire owns 75%, soared by more than… 1,500% between March 2020 and October 2022.

Recently, the man with the black mustache attacked the media sector. His first target: New Delhi Television (NDTV). On August 23, he announced that he had acquired 29.2% of the NDTV group. In the process, he announced his desire to acquire 26% of additional shares and, therefore, to become the majority. This hostile takeover, as described by the Indian media, raises serious concerns about freedom of expression. In Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom ranking, India now ranks 150th out of 180 countries. Financial analysts and media observers claim, on condition of anonymity, that the attempted takeover of NDTV by Gautam Adani could not have been done without the blessing of the highest levels of power… who certainly sees, in this takeover control, the way to muzzle one of the few Indian television channels to be critical of the government. While waiting for other acquisitions in the media sector?


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