Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

  • Were India’s stocks manipulated before election results?

    When exit polls predicted a landslide win for the party of Narendra Modi, share prices in India’s stock market soared. When the official results then showed that Modi would hang on as a weakened prime minister in a coalition government, share prices crashed. The lost value amounted to a staggering US $360 billion. Adani stocks led the way, both with the initial surge and then with the plunge. Opposition parties have called for an investigation into whether there was manipulation of the share market via the exit polls and associated bullish statements.

    On 4 June 2024, the day it become known that India’s ruling party, the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, would return to power for a third five-year term but as a weaker head of government, the prices of the shares of Adani Group companies collapsed amid a general meltdown of the country’s stock markets. Opposition politicians have called for an inquiry into allegations of stock-price manipulation.

    The story starts on Friday 31 May when there was frantic buying and selling of shares in the country’s biggest bourse, the National Stock Exchange (NSE). The total volume of trade on the NSE doubled compared with the previous day. It included vigorous trade in Adani stocks. The last occasion something like this happened was a decade earlier, on 16 May 2014, when it became known that Modi would become the Prime Minister of India with the BJP winning more than a majority of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha. This occurred after an era of coalition politics lasting over 25 years during which no single party had won more than the half-way mark of 272 seats.

    In the 2024 election, however, the number of seats won by the BJP crashed from 303 to 240. Modi is, for the first time, heading a coalition government. This became known on 4 June. But wait! Before this took place, an unusual development took place.

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi has won a third term, but has been forced, for the first time, to govern in coalition. Image courtesy BBC

    The doubling of trading volumes on 31 May was largely on account of buying and selling of shares by foreign institutional investors (FIIs) who accounted for almost 60% of the total trade on the NSE that fateful day. Why? Because during the preceding weeks and days, FIIs were rather lukewarm about trading on the NSE because of uncertainty about the outcome of the elections. In fact, the week leading up to 31 May saw FIIs as net sellers.

    The next two days were hectic, but not on the stock exchange as it was closed over the weekend. On Saturday 3 June, the seventh and final phase of the general elections ended. On Saturday evening, opinion pollsters announced their analysis of the ‘exit polls’.

    In exit polls, the views of a sample of voters after voting are analysed.  It is a separate matter that pollsters often do not disclose details of the number of voters whose views were considered or their socio-economic background since they are not legally bound to do so.

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  • PM Modi’s 'own goal' on Adani and Ambani

    In the midst of India’s general election, observers have been flummoxed by a recent attack by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on key opposition figure Rahul Gandhi. Modi accused Gandhi of accepting vanloads of cash from India’s two richest men, Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani, supposedly in return for going easy on them. No evidence for this bizarre slur was proffered. The claims were perplexing because Gandhi has been far from silent regarding the alleged nexus between Modi, Adani and Ambani. It is Narendra Modi himself who is seen by many commentators, not just Gandhi, as having favoured the Adani and Ambani corporate conglomerates with friendly government policies.

    Half-way through the heat and dust of India’s general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sprung a surprise on the country, including his most ardent supporters. He suggested during a public speech on 8 May 2024 in Karimnagar, Telangana, in southern India, that the country’s two richest men Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani were sending carloads of cash to the largest opposition party, the Indian National Congress.

    Opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi, pledges to institute a parliamentary probe into the alleged malpractices of the Adani Group, following publication of the explosive Hindenburg Report in January 2023.

    The Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi, retaliated by asking Modi why his government’s law-enforcing agencies were not acting against the two oligarchs. In recent years, Gandhi has been relentlessly attacking Modi, who heads the right-wing Hindu nationalist government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in New Delhi, for shaping policies and bending rules to favour the corporate conglomerates led by Adani and Ambani, both of whom are from Gujarat, Modi’s home state. Modi is attempting to win a third consecutive term as prime minister,

    Narendra Modi to Rahul Gandhi: why have you stopped abusing Adani-Ambani?

    Here is a translation from Hindi to English of what the Prime Minister said 25 minutes into his speech in Karimnagar:

    ‘You may have noticed, for the last five years, the shehzada (or prince) of the Congress (meaning Rahul Gandhi) has been harping on the same string every morning as soon as he gets up. Ever since the Rafale (aircraft) case (in which it was alleged that Modi had favoured a French firm) was grounded, he started harping on it. For five years, he has been harping on it. Five industrialists, five industrialists, five industrialists…

    PM Modi's post on social media of his rally speech at which he made his strange allegation against Opposition campaigner, Rahul Gandhi. Image X

    ‘Then slowly, he started saying Ambani-Adani, Ambani-Adani, Ambani-Adani, for five years. But ever since the elections were declared, he stopped abusing Ambani-Adani. Today, from Telangana, I want to ask him… the shehzada should announce how much money (maal) he has taken from Ambani-Adani. How many sacks of black money have gone to him? Have they sent tempos (vans) filled with notes to Congress? What deal have they struck? You have stopped abusing Ambani-Adani overnight. There must be something fishy. For five years, he abused Ambani-Adani, and overnight the abuses stopped! That means you have received looted amounts (chori ka maal) filled in trucks. You have to answer the nation.’

    PM Modi at Ahmedabad airport - sold to the Adani Group despite the Group then having had no experience running airports.

    A part of the statement was also highlighted on Prime Minister Modi’s official website.

    On 9 May, the Congress dared the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take the ‘logical step’ of ordering a thorough investigation against Adani and Ambani, whom Modi described as ‘hoarders of black money’. Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said that Modi mustered courage to ‘expose the corruption of Adani and Ambani’ after Rahul Gandhi had highlighted the ‘corporate loot’ that had allegedly been acquired by these two super-rich industrialists.

    She taunted the Prime Minister: ‘He said they fill tempos (vans) with bags of cash and distribute them…Modi must now send the Enforcement Directorate, the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) and the Income Tax (Department) to investigate how so much black money was amassed. What’s the point in getting scared now and retracing the step? Don’t be afraid now, unleash your agencies. Let the raids start.’

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  • Dharavi: ‘People are nervous that they will be displaced and taken to a transit camp.’

    The Dharavi settlement in Mumbai is internationally famous. Adani has won the right to redevelop it by demolishing this huge shantytown and then re-housing its inhabitants. In this video interview, an advocate for workers in Dharavi’s thousands of enterprises expresses fears for those people’s economic future:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eogabVUdEb8

    Vinod Shetty points out that lots of well-off people in the city of Mumbai, including parties, politicians and agencies, live off the labour of workers in Dharavi, which is home to thousands of enterprises and hundreds of thousands of consumers. He says that Dharavi and its businesses have become a massive 'cash cow' for those who make money from the poor.

    'People are nervous that they will be displaced.' Vinod Shetty, advocate for workers in Dharavi.

    ‘A large number of people get displaced by whatever redevelopment is planned, including the current one,’ says Shetty. ‘Every chief minister regards Dharavi as a hot potato.’

    ‘What we will be creating is one of the largest displacements of people, because nearly 50% of the people are not even included in the survey of the residents of Dharavi, so these people are out from Day One.’

    ‘People are nervous that they will be displaced … and taken to a transit camp… and they don’t know their fate. They don’t know when they will come back.’

    ‘No chief minister wants to end his career with this visual of hundreds of thousands of people packing their belongings and trudging out of Dharavi.’

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eogabVUdEb8

     


  • Homeless and jobless? How Adani’s ‘redevelopment’ of Mumbai’s huge slum will impact residents.

    Dharavi in Mumbai is Asia’s largest slum. Adani has won the right to redevelop it by demolishing this huge shantytown and then re-housing its inhabitants. But many people fear they will be made homeless and jobless. Here, an urban-planning expert articulates those concerns to veteran journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRKvs2OEZBs


  • Sreedhar Ramamurthi: A geologist who campaigned for Mother Earth

    OBITUARY

    On 28 December 2023, Dr Sreedhar Ramamurthi died in the Indian city of Mumbai. He was 67. Sreedhar was the founder of the Environics Trust, an organisation dedicated to tackling the unsustainability of mining and other resource-extractive activities in India. In recent years, instruments of the Modi government had hounded both Sreedhar and the Environics Trust, causing them stress and hardship. Sreedhar was a learned and gentle man, but possessed of deep conviction in his efforts to protect the environment of his beloved India from plundering corporations.

    Sreedhar Ramamurthi was a scientist as well as an activist who worked to ameliorate the condition of those impacted by reckless mining all over India. He worked with many others who shared his ideals about the need to conserve the planet with care. He was no starry-eyed social worker who believed he could change the world overnight. He was down to earth and practical about what could be achieved and what could not, and the extent to which the government could be convinced to support the under-privileged when their interests were pitted against those of the rich and the powerful.

    He was a grassroots person. He travelled the length and breadth of the country. The vested interests who made big bucks by damaging the ecology of India – its jal (water), jangal (forests), jameen (land) – feared him. For he always knew what he was talking about.

    Towards the end of his life, he, and the organisation he founded, Environics Trust, were hounded by the Income Tax Department and the Ministry of Home Affairs that administers the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. In a letter, the department alleged that the trust had collaborated with the Mineral Inheritors Rights Association for supporting those who were protesting against the coal-mining projects being operated by the Adani Group in Odisha in eastern India, among other such projects. The tax authorities claimed that funds were spent ‘not as per the objects of the Trust’. The cases against the Environics Trust continue but the man who was the driving force behind the organisation is no more.

    Dr Sreedhar Ramamurthi was only 67 when he passed away in Mumbai where he was on vacation with his family.

    In 1977, Sreedhar completed a bachelor’s degree in science from Osmania University, Hyderabad, with an unusual (by Indian standards) combination of subjects: mathematics, physics and geology. He spent the next two years at the prestigious University of Roorkee (now an Indian Institute of Technology) in Uttarakhand studying applied geology. He later did a short course on environmental risk management at Salzburg, Austria. He worked with the public sector Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and in the Atomic Minerals Directorate of the Indian government’s Ministry of Atomic Energy, in Hyderabad.

    However, a secure government job was clearly not what Sreedhar wanted. He chose to live and work with ordinary people. He was instrumental in setting up the Environics Trust as its managing trustee and became closely associated with several non-government organisations, including, notably, Mines, Minerals and People, the Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC), and the Mineral Inheritors Rights Association. He became deeply interested in the environment of the Himalayas and studied the seismological impacts of hydro-electric projects in the mountainous terrain of India and Nepal. He was a visiting professor at reputed educational institutions in India and outside the country, wrote dozens of scholarly papers, and established close contacts with many others in different countries who had interests and concerns that were similar to his.

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