Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s recent rendezvous with Gautam Adani is, indeed, no run of the mill move. The two are rather unlikely bedfellows. Yet, both came together last week at a two-day investment show held at Jaipur.
There were also quite a few other captains of industry attending the event, but it was Adani who stole the show by thumping up an unexpectedly huge investment assurance of ₹65,000 crore for fund-strapped and industrially deficient Rajasthan when compared to neighbouring Gujarat and also a bit farther Maharashtra.
Though quite significant, the virtually golden deal offered by Adani to Rajasthan through Gehlot’s good offices looks unseemly in view of the Congress’s — and more so the party’s central leadership’s — long held reservations about Adani and his vast and varied enterprise and businesses that now cut across countries and continents.
So much so that no less a person than the former Congress president Rahul Gandhi has often castigated the BJP-run Central government for crony-capitalism where only a select few businessmen find favour with the Modi government; and, Adani has been at the top of Narendra Modi’s list of “favourites”.
Among the reasons behind Congress’ such circumspection is the fact that way back in May 2014, Modi, along with a few of his trusted aides from Gujarat, flew in an Adani plane from Ahmedabad to Delhi to take over as Prime Minister of the country. There have been reports of Modi using Adani’s aircraft for his election campaign too in 2014; and ever since or thereafter Adani has grown to become world’s second richest person, leaving behind even Mukesh Ambani.
This is why Rahul often made now his famous riposte like — hum do and hamare do (‘we two, ours two’, a slogan used by the government in the 1990s to promote the two-child policy) — to point to the way Adani and Ambani are beholden by Modi and his point-man Amit Shah.
Yet, quite unlike this, Rahul found nothing wrong with the latest Rajasthan forays being made by Adani. At a press conference at Turuvekere in Karnataka last Saturday (October 8), amid his Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul remarked that no CM could reject a proposal of a whopping ₹60,000 crore for his state.
“I am not against corporate or business. My contention is that the use of political power to help certain businesses to create monopolies is wrong,” he said, endorsing what had happened the previous day in Jaipur.
No NYAY in U-turn
But this is way far from what Rahul had said before 2019 general elections after sharing the details of Congress’ NYAY or Nyuntam Aay Yojna (Minimum Income Support Programme) with the media. Under the programme, each deservingly poor family was to be provided with a minimum income of ₹72,000 a year or ₹6,000 a month by the state through direct cash transfer to their bank accounts.
This was also included in the Congress manifesto which said: “The scheme will be funded through new revenues and rationalisation of expenditure.”
Since the programme was estimated to cost a staggering ₹3.26 lakh-crore a year, questions were raised about the mobilisation of resources to which Rahul had said that the public funds being doled out to favourite businessmen could be taken back to meet the cost of the scheme.
In April 2019, Rahul observed in an election rally in Assam that the sum for the NYAY scheme would come from dubious and yet favoured businesses. And while addressing another rally before this at Jagadhari town in Haryana’s Yamunanagar district, Rahul claimed that money was withdrawn from the accounts of farmers without their permission under the crop insurance scheme.
“The money goes to the companies of Anil Ambani, Adani. When there are losses because of storms and rains, you don’t get your insurance money.” This is how Rahul’s Jagadhari electoral show was reported by The Indian Express from Chandigarh on March 30, 2019.
Matters of preference
So the point is that Rahul in the past or even until recently has never been as favourably disposed towards Adani as it turned out to be in the wake of Gehlot’s Rajasthan investment jamboree. At the Turuvekere press conference in Tumkur district, he insisted on answering the question regarding Adani’s investment offer for Rajasthan despite Congress media head Jairam Ramesh’s efforts to allow questions only related to the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
But Rahul answered a question related to Adani both in Hindi and English. He went on to say, “The Rajasthan government hasn’t given any preferential treatment to Adani. They haven’t misused political power to go out of the way to help Adani. If they do, I will stand up and oppose them.”
Soon, Gehlot cited this as Rahul’s endorsement of his efforts to mop up investment for Rajasthan. He went on to say in Jaipur that he would welcome investment deals for the state not only from Adani but also from anybody, even Ambani or Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah.
But what Rahul could have well meant by justifying the Jaipur investment proposals is that unlike the BJP-run Centre that often transferred ports and airports, besides other public assets, to Adani via disinvestment at convenient or buyer-friendly rates and prompt assistance from banks, the Rajasthan deal did not entail transfer of any provincial asset to Adani.
Yet, it is a fact that huge tracts of land will be required for Adani’s renewable or solar energy facilities to be built in Rajasthan. This will amount to transfer of a state asset on predictably easy terms.
Change of heart
Thus, there is a possibility of a change of heart in the Congress’ best bet with respect to Adani, if not Ambani. But somehow the last among the two was conspicuous by his absence at the Jaipur conclave.
Though it is difficult to say what could bring about this change of attitude in Rahul, his party peers have often been quibbling over his unrestrained and direct criticism of top business barons. Many of them feel that Rahul’s Leftwards overdrive was proving costly for the party, besides destroying its long tried and tested Centrist position.
But in any case, Adani is venturing into Rajasthan in politically fraught and febrile times. Until last month, the fate of the Gehlot government was uncertain as he was being persuaded by Congress higher ups to take the reins of the party from an ailing Sonia Gandhi. He shied away from this and, instead, preferred to continue as Chief Minister of Rajasthan.
With overwhelming support of Congress legislators, he and his cohorts took cover under the pretext of the possibility of the stewardship of the huge desert state passing on to his bête noire Sachin Pilot in the event of Gehlot’s moving to Delhi as Congress president.
Gehlot supporters accused Pilot of being in league with BJP since the time he raised a banner of revolt against Gehlot about two years ago or so. The paucity of numbers of MLAs supporting Pilot left Gehlot unscathed.
Pilot was also said to have the support of big corporate houses and the media owned and run by some of them when he challenged Gehlot’s leadership in 2020. So, among other things, the October 7-8 investment conclave held in Jaipur was an effort by Gehlot to woo corporate bigwigs to his side in what has been seen as fractured and deeply divided Congress politics in Rajasthan.
The gala event for investments in Rajasthan took place at a time when Congress top ranks were in a flux. And it is going to be so for another week or until party delegates elect a new president on October 17 by choosing between Mallikarjun Kharge and Shashi Tharoor, who are contesting for the top party post. The outcome of the polls would be known after a couple of days of polling.
But amid the hubbub created by the top level changes taking place in the Congress alongside Rahul’s foot-march, Gehlot is, obviously, trying to tighten his grip over his state. This is so despite the fact that he has of late not been able to visit even Gujarat where he was given the task to look after the Congress campaign for the upcoming Assembly polls.
No time for Gujarat
This is in sharp contrast to several Gujarat visits being made by Modi, Amit Shah and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Singh Mann on almost weekly basis. And it has been so since March this year. In the absence of Gehlot the Congress campaign is being looked after by his close associate and former Rajasthan Minister Raghu Sharma.
Yet, it is a fact that no prominent or top-ranking Congress leader has visited election-bound Gujarat for over a month now. This is so except Kharge who visited Gandhinagar earlier this month as a part of his campaign for Congress president’s election and Rahul’s brief visit to Sabarmati Ashram on September 5 to seek blessings at Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial before the start of his Bharat Jodo Yatra. Rahul also addressed a meeting of Congress’ booth-level workers at Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad.
Thus, it is during such crucial times that Gehlot has opted for refurbishing his image as Congress’ Rajasthan strongman rather than taking the party’s call from the neighbouring state, where his help is needed quite a bit.
Gehlot was Congress general-secretary when the last Gujarat polls were held in December 2017 and he had campaigned extensively, besides Rahul Gandhi, with the result that Congress had won 77 Assembly seats against the BJP’s 99 in the 182-strong Assembly. This is not so this time and, thus, there are fears in Congress circles that a few of its MLAs may break ranks with the party to join BJP before the polls.
Though Gehlot looks to be unfazed by such a possibility, the social media warriors of the BJP have started making taunts at Rahul after Gehlot was seen in Adani’s company at Jaipur. Undeterred by these manoeuvres Rahul is going ahead with his yatra and may well visit Gujarat sometime in between his five-month long run that is to cover over 3,500 km from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.
Unlike him, Gehlot’s plan for the Gujarat campaign is still under wraps despite questions being asked about this in Congress circles. And it is more so after his Jaipur show that was marked by rather rare conviviality and aplomb.