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Devalued national hero

EducationWorld March 2023 | Books Magazine

Gautam adani: reimagining business in india & the world
R.N. Bhaskar
PENGUIN
Rs.699 Pages 311

One hopes that this biography will persuade the citizenry into believing that 21st century India needs 1,000×2 As (Ambani & Adani) to fulfill its full potential

 

This is a timely, well-researched and engagingly written biography on this eponymous business tycoon who since January 24, has experienced a steep decline of fortune, hitherto one of the largest of the contemporary world.
In the past three weeks — until mid-February when this review was being written — Ahmedabad-based super-charged entrepreneur Gautam Adani’s net worth plunged from $19 billion (Rs.1.55 lakh crore) to $10 billion.

From being the world’s third wealthiest individual in the global rich list published periodically by Forbes, a US-based business fortnightly, Adani’s rank in the league table has plunged to #17.

This contretemps prompted cancellation of a mega Rs.20,000 crore ($2.4 billion) FPO (follow public issue) of Adani Enterprises Ltd (AEL), the flagship ‘incubator’ company of the Adani Group.

This precipitous fall in the fortune of the most enterprising, go-getting business leader of recent years whose brilliantly strategised ventures in core infrastructure industries — sea-ports, coal, power generation and transmission, green energy, cement production, data sciences, edible oil imports — kept the economy and stock market afloat during the pandemic lockdown, is the consequence of a report published by Hindenburg Research, a tiny (five employees) US-based finance company. The report which has gone viral on social and print media alleges that Adani companies are ‘over-valued’ by mysterious offshore companies. According to Hinderburg, artificially boosted prices have been used to raise a mountain of debt by Adani, especially abroad.

This biography under review penned by R.N. Bhaskar — an experienced journalist (Business India, Free Press Journal) — was published in late 2022, well before the current debacle.

Reading it is likely to persuade readers that failure of the FPO and recent setbacks notwithstanding, the Adani growth story is not over.
Indeed, this reviewer hopes it will persuade a soft-headed citizenry into believing that 21st century India needs 1,000 x 2As (Ambani and Adani) to fulfil its full potential and destiny.

By any yardstick, the rise of Gautam Adani, the fifth child of Shantilal Adani, an Ahmedabad commodities trader of “limited means”, to #3 in the Forbes rich list within three decades is extraordinary. It is in the tradition of G.D. Birla, Walchand Hirachand, Lala Shri Ram, J.N. Tata and a host of other enterprising businessmen who in the years between the two World Wars, established large business conglomerates in the teeth of opposition by minions of the British Raj.

Yet perhaps more accurately, Adani is more reminiscent of his hero and role model, the late Dhirubhai Ambani (1932-2002). From an Aden-based petrol pump attendant and later yarn trader, denied funding by government-controlled term lending institutions and banks, Ambani went over their heads to the public to raise mountains of money. Before he died in 2002, he grew Reliance Industries (RIL) into one of the wealthiest companies worldwide (Rs.696,972 crore in 2022). RIL has created over 250,000 well- paid jobs that sparked an unprecedented consumer boom.

Gautam Adani’s critics — business-illiterate lefties who one suspects are driven more by envy than the public interest — contend that his swift rise in the industrial firmament has been propelled by the grace and favour of politicians and prime minister Narendra Modi, in particular.
Modi was chief minister (2001-14) of Gujarat state when the Ahmedabad-based Adani transformed into a force to reckon with in India Inc.
Yet as he clarified in several media interviews, he got his first break into big business due to a liberalised foreign trade policy promulgated by Congress prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1985. According to Bhaskar, when Adani hit upon the idea of establishing the super-modern Mundra Port to smooth exports and imports, the strangulating red tape that all businessmen are heir to, was cut by Congress chief ministers of Gujarat.
Yet as Bhaskar writes, the moot point is that Adani has never denied friendship and assistance provided by politicians across all party lines.

Therefore in the interests of national development, Adani constructed Mundra port which required huge paperwork and licenses. In this unbiased biography, Bhaskar demonstrates that friendship with the prime minister may win licences and permissions, but the PM can’t help with project design, planning and implementation. Today Mundra is listed among the Top 5 ports worldwide. As Bhaskar highlights with numerous examples, Adani’s major skills are quick decision-making and project completion within budgeted time frames which inspire investor confidence.

According to the London-based Economist, currently Adani Group companies “run some of India’s biggest ports, stores a third of its grain, operates a fifth of its power transmission lines and makes a fifth of its cement”. Moreover, the group has 100,000 well-paid employees on its payrolls. The Adani companies generate massive direct and indirect taxes for the Centre and states.

Against this backdrop, the hate campaign mounted against Adani whose business activities drive national growth, based on investigations of Hindenburg — a self-confessed short-seller firm abroad — by the Congress party and Rahul Gandhi is reprehensible and anti-national. Even Prime Minister Modi refuses to speak up for Adani.

With a majority shareholding in all his smoothly functional companies generating profit, Adani is unlikely to go broke. He will remain in the Top 50 global rich lists.

The real loser in this contretemps is the public. Following cancellation of the FPO, the expansion plans of several Adani Group companies have been put on hold. The price in terms of jobs lost and taxes foregone won’t be paid by Rahul Gandhi or Left academics. They make sure their jobs are secure in inflation-proof employment. The citizenry was forced to endure export-import delays, power outages, pot-holed roads and suffer thousand unnatural shocks. Citizens had become accustomed to them after 50 years of bankrupt socialism. Rahul Gandhi and his chorus wish to perpetuate socialism. The plain truth is that Gautam Adani is a national hero. For proof, read this unauthorised biography.

Dilip Thakore

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