A legal notice served by Gautam Adani’s lawyer to India’s leading academic journal, the Economic And Political Weekly, led to the journal’s trustees pushing its editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta to quit.
Thakurta is a highly respected senior journalist with a track record of writing boldly on corporate corruption. While editor of EPW, he along with Advait Rao Palepu and Shinzani Jain wrote a piece titled ‘Did the Adani Group Evade Rs 1,000 Crore in Taxes?’ that was published in the EPW. Thakurta also wrote and published another piece along with Advait Rao Palepu, Shinzani Jain and Abir Dasgupta, titled ‘Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group.’
The story about a Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) investigation into alleged tax evasion by the Adani group observed, “A set of firms in the Adani Group apparently misused various export incentive schemes through a complex web of front companies located in different parts of the world. These shell companies, which indulged in high-velocity “circular trading” among related corporate entities, were also used to launder money, the DRI has claimed. All the corporate entities were directly or indirectly controlled by, or associated with, Adani Enterprises Limited (AEL), a flagship firm of the Adani Group which was called Adani Exports Limited before 2007. The DRI has alleged that AEL flagrantly misdeclared the freight on board (FOB, also called free on board) values of cut and polished diamonds (CPD) and gold jewellery.”
The story about the Modi Government’s bonanza to the Adani Group was a detailed account of a blatant case of crony capitalism whereby the “government recently took a decision to quietly tweak the rules relating to special economic zones (SEZs) which has enabled a company in the Adani Group to reap a bonanza of around Rs 500 crore.”
Adani is a corporate CEO who is known to be especially close to Modi: a relationship that has proved very profitable to Adani. Pratik Sinha in a March 2014 piece in Truth of Gujarat summed up the facts about that relationship prior to Modi becoming PM: “Megha Bahree in her extensively researched piece on Forbes.com has lay open the largesse doled out by Narendra Modi to Gautam Adani to make him a multi-multi-billionaire in a span of 12 years. The article also reveals how large tracts of land that were given away are completely illegal and how the entire Adani enterprise is killing the environment….
The Adani Group was established in 1988 and became publicly traded in 1994. But its real rise happened under Modi’s reign in Gujarat. From 2002 to last March the group’s revenue rose from $765 million to $8.8 billion while net profits climbed even faster. It also tacked on a hefty amount of debt-$13 billion-more than doubling since 2011.” The Adani-Modi embrace has gotten even tighter after Modi became PM.
Adani’s legal notice to EPW is a typical case of the kind of lawsuits that have come to be known as SLAPP – ‘strategic lawsuit against public participation.’ Duly SLAPPed, the Sameeksha Trust that governs EPW fell out with Thakurta. They reportedly set conditions that would compromise his freedom as the EPW editor – leading him to resign instead of continuing in his post. The two articles that were taken down from the EPW site in response to the SLAPP notice, were published by Wire.in.
The nature of censorship has changed since the days of the Emergency and become even more dangerous. During the Emergency, the Government itself gagged the media, even as ‘official’ media became a spokesperson for the Government. Now, ‘independent’ media houses are not really independent – they are owned by corporations that, quite literally, have invested in the current PM and regime, which in turn gives these corporations much largesse. As a result, a large section of influential media is in the Government’s pockets, doing the kind of pro-Government propaganda that AIR or DD did in an earlier era. In this situation, any media that shows the slightest signs of true independence, asking inconvenient questions about the crony capitalist Government or its corporate friends, faces the threat of gags by both Government and corporates alike. EPW is one of the latest victims of this phenomenon. Since then, TV9 suddenly dropped a popular Marathi TV show hosted by senior journalist Nikhil Wagle, reportedly under political pressure – leading to Wagle’s resignation.
We must remember that the notorious instances of corruption that brought the UPA Government down were cases of crony capitalism. The Adani-Ambani-Modi nexus that is trying to SLAPP and gag journalists exposing such crony capitalism today is among the worst attacks on freedom of expression, independent media and democracy.