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Gautam Adani: Rise To Eminence

Adani's biographer, R.N. Bhaskar points out that, although he speaks English hesitantly, he makes up for this weakness by listening intently

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Stocks of 7 companies of Adani group fell by nearly 23% on Friday

Picture a young schoolboy in his mid-teens- impatient and hungry for success,  with a rare capacity to think out of the box. He belongs to a traditional Gujarati Jain family. An early visit to the Kandla port, at the age of 11,  fires his imagination and leaves a lasting impression.

That’s what he wants to build; he knows he lacks resources but still dreams big. Since he is good at science, he could become an engineer, but the young man is in a hurry.

So he tries to do both study and do business. He finds out soon that he can’t. Fatigue generates sleep when he travels in Mumbai’s local trains, and he often finds himself overshooting his destination. Instead of getting down at Charni Road, he reaches  Churchgate terminal, two stations away.

He makes his choice. He gives up formal schooling but continues to educate himself informally. He enters into his first business deal at the age of seventeen and never looks back. He starts as a trader in diamonds, switches to plastics, and over time grows into a formidable industrialist with a vast range of interests,   covering generation and transmission of electricity, renewable energy,  development of ports,  airports, natural gas, food processing and infrastructure.  Today he helms one of the biggest industrial conglomerates in the world. His personal net worth, even after the recent bloodbath at the stock market, is about $ 60 billion. This is a phenomenal success story if there ever was one.

The man is Gautam Adani. His biographer, R.N. Bhaskar (Gautam Adani, Reimagining Business in India and the world, Penguin, 2022) points out that, although he speaks English hesitantly,  he makes up for this weakness by listening intently. He has developed friendships all across the political spectrum, covering the left, the Congress, BJP and even TMC.  

He does not block the growth of competitors; he just outpaces them. He is careful always to ensure that his growth ambitions are closely aligned with the development plans of the nation. He knows that this way he will not face headwinds. He also respects fair play, so when he buys out a shareholder, he makes sure he ensures that he gets more than the market price. A former secretary of the Gujarat government vouches for this. The official noticed this when the Gujarat government struck a deal with him on the sale of their minority shareholding in the Mundra port. “Besides,” he writes, “he is polite and down to earth. When most large industrialists would send senior executives to visit bureaucrats, Mr Adani would always  come in person.”

Nobody came to his aid when the shares of his group suffered a free fall, and reduced his net worth by much more than half.  It does not seem that the establishment is batting for him. Whatever the truth behind the Hindenburg report, if he manipulated the value of his stocks through offshore shell companies, undoubtedly SEBI and other regulators would take appropriate penal action if the current probes throw up sufficient evidence.  

Currently, however, the allegations against him are unsubstantiated. It is therefore unfair that he should be at the centre of a political storm. Politicians sloganeering against him and Prime Minister Modi forget that Indian society values entrepreneurial abilities. Business bashing is part of socialist rhetoric that came to us as a colonial legacy. Nehru regarded profit as a dirty word.  This attitude percolated into the bureaucracy and hobbled growth for the next forty years, but its impact subsists even today.  

Politicians forget that India has changed since the fifties: the reforms of 1991 led to an unprecedented growth of the Indian economy.  This resulted in new employment opportunities for a new aspiring middle class in a much larger private sector. This new social class comprises people who are fiercely nationalistic and don’t care how they speak English, as long as they they are understood. They do not demonise business; celebrate success; and are proud of our commercial traditions that go back to antiquity.

( The writer was Additional Secretary, Central Vigilance Commission and is the author of the Moral Compass- Finding Balance and Purpose in an Imperfect World, Harper Collins India, 2022 ) 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Hardayal Singh

The writer was Chief Commissioner of Income-tax and is the author of the Moral Compass- Finding Balance and Purpose in an Imperfect World, Harper Collins India, 2022

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