Saturday, November 11, 2017

THE MYTH OF AN INCORRUPTIBLE MR MODI

Supporting a person complicit of abetting heinous crimes such as mass murder, just because he has an “honest” image, is as foolish as marrying a serial rapist because he files his tax returns on time. What if you then discover that this news about him filing his tax returns was a result of fake propaganda and media management, and was not the truth? 
“He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”-Monty Python, Life of Brian



Despite both circumstantial and directly incriminating evidence of corruption and cronyism, the myth of Incorruptible Mr Modi, of “Na Khaunga aur Na Khaane Doonga” fame, has been built on fake news and suppression of investigations.


The arrival of a fake messiah

The Right to Information (RTI) act, which was passed by the UPA government in 2005, came back to haunt them during the UPA’s second term. NGOs and journalists, still allowed to function rather freely, were able to dig up several cases of corruption. As stories of scams broke out, people of India were naturally disgusted and were eagerly looking for a clean alternative.



This was also the period when US diplomatic cables had been published by Wikileaks and had taken the world by storm. Suddenly, there was a new story circulated on Indian social media, which claimed that according to Wikileaks’s founder Julian Assange, “America Fears Narendra Modi, because they know he is incorruptible”.



Lo and behold, a new messiah was born, who captured the imagination of a large number of  “frustrated” Indians.

Read:Paranjoy Guha Thakurta quits under Adani's pressure , Ramchandra Guha says EPW behaves shamefully

This image was not only peddled by the usual culprits of BJP IT cell on social media, but also by the man himself. Mr Narendra Modi pushed the same claim via his blog on Mar 22 2011.


For nearly three years, this story was spread and sold aggressively to Indians via social media and several sections of mainstream media. But, was there any truth to it?

  Read: Adani Group ‘SLAPP’ Pushes EPW Editor Out of His Job

In March 2014, Wikileaks finally issued a denial. Turns out, our “incorruptible” saint and his bhakts had merely been spreading a lie. Neither Julian Assange, nor US diplomats had made any such remarks in the Wikileaks cables.


So much for the “honesty” of our “incorruptible” saint !

This clarification received far less attention and publicity in our mainstream as well as social media. The fake news had already become a truth believed by hordes who consume a daily dosage of social media hoaxes. This is the general pattern you will see repeated with Mr Modi – a Fake propaganda regarding his achievements is front page news, yet the expose of his lies is well hidden, buried by some other deliberately generated noise, and hence goes unnoticed by most.


Scams in Gujarat under Modi’s watch

Before we examine the specific cases of Adani and Modi further, let us list some allegations of financial irregularities that happened under Modi’s regime in Gujarat. Mr Modi tried his best to stop the appointment of Lokayukta and never wanted these allegations to be probed independently. [1] Over a period of time, many of these allegations lost  steam. Modi, the master of Event Management and throwing new jumlas that make people forget his past failures, knew very well that public memory is very short, if managed properly. Did you notice how quickly Notebandi has simply been forgotten by everyone, once it became clear it was all a massive fiasco?


§  In 2005, Modi announced in his typical “Feku” style, and with a lot of fanfare how GSPC had found gas worth ₹ 220,000 Crores in Krishna Godavari Basin, and that the nation would no longer need to import any gas by 2007. 10 years on, and after wasting ₹ 20,000 Crores against expert advice, the company was driven to a bankruptcy by Modi’s whims. GSPC misused its funds and allegedly formed join ventures with dodgy front companies with no experience in offshore drilling. [2]  After 20,000 crore loss to Gujarat state exchequer, PM Modi forced ONGC to take over GSPC gas fields in order to cover up his massive misadventure. [3]

§  The ₹ 400 Crores fisheries scam. Contract were awarded to favourite parties without inviting tender. [4]


§  Two bidders apparently formed a cartel and bid for supplying supplementary Nutrition Extruded Fortified Blended Food (EFBF) to Anganwadis with Government collusion. Contracts worth ₹500 Crores kept getting awarded to a handful of contractors, particularly Kota Dal Mills and Muruliwala Agrotech. The State continued to do this despite a 2006 Apex court warning to decentralise food production and a 2010 Gujarat High Court order which noted that the contracts were a violation of Supreme Court rulings.[5]

§  The ₹500 crore Sujalam Sufalam Yojana Rice scam. The ₹6237.33 crore Sujalam Sufalam Yojana (SSY) announced in 2003 was to be completed by 2005. Public accounts Committee of Gujarat assembly unanimously prepared a report indicating a scam of over ₹500 crore, which was never tabled. The probe was delayed. [6]


§  49% of the shares of Pipavav Power Station of GSPC were sold to Swan Energy for a paltry sum of ₹381 Crores without inviting any tenders from other companies and obtaining the maximum price, thereby, avoiding fair competition.[7]

§  Loss of ₹580 crore to the exchequer by bestowing undue favours to Ford, L&T, Adani, Essar and Reliance in Gujarat, as per CAG report. [8]


Multiple scams with land deals:

§   Gujarat Government illegally allocated 422 acre land to Anantiben’s daughter‘s partner at 92.5% discount in the Gir buffer zone. The allotment of 245 acres of land worth ₹145 crore was done for just ₹1.5 crore. [9][10]
§   16,000 acres were allocated to Adani Group at ₹1-₹32 per sq meter

§  whereas the average market price was ₹1100 per sq meter, and some even paid ₹6000 per sq meter. This is an undue benefit of ₹6,546 Crores. As an extensively researched article of the Forbes’ magazine said: [11]


“Adani has, over the years, leased 7,350 hectares–much of which he got from 2005 onward–from the government in an area called Mundra in the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat. FORBES ASIA has copies of the agreements that show he got the 30-year, renewable leases for as little as one U.S. cent a square meter (the rate maxed out at 45 cents a square meter). He in turn has sublet this land to other companies, including state-owned Indian Oil Co., for as much as $11 a square meter.”

§  Modi and his propaganda claim that a single SMS message of “Suswagatam” from Mr Modi to Mr Ratan Tata convinced the Tatas to switch to Gujarat. Of course, no prudent businessman would be such a fool. The truth is, when Tatas were looking for an alternative location for Nano car plant, Modi bent over backwards to lure them. 1100 acres were given to TATA at ₹900 per sq meter whereas market price was much higher (note how this compares to other land deals). Tata Motors was also given a “Loan” of ₹456 Crores towards setting up the plant in Gujarat. Some estimates suggest a total subsidy of ₹33,000 Crores was given by the Gujarat Government to Tata Motors! [12] Mr Modi used this move of Tata heavily towards his own self-promotion, which was at Taxpayers’ expense. [13]

§  Indigold refineries land scam – After having alloted cheap land to it for a refinery, the State government allowed Indigold Refinery to sell 200,000 sq. meter of land to Alumina Refinery rather than taking its possession. The deal is allegedly estimated to have cost the state exchequer around ₹40 crore.[14]

§  16 acres of prime University land in the centre of Ahmedabad was sold to a Hotel through a rigged tender. Deal was said to be brokered by the CM himself.[15]

Now, a bhakt may say, so what if this smells of Crony Capitalism? This is a CM working hard to get more investments into his state. So what if he is wasting taxpayers’ money in favours to his crony friends, at least some of these, such as a the Tata plant, will be beneficial for the State in the long run.

Firstly, these actions of undue favours to attract investments by bending over backwards, only show that the claims of “Gujarat Model” were themselves fake. Other states were able to attract more investments than Gujarat without such freebies. Had 14 years of “Vibrant Gujarat” really been so successful, there should have been people queuing up to invest and setup factories in Gujarat at any cost, without the government having to grant them so many favours. Majority of these announcements, done with much fanfare, have turned out to be damp squibs.

Secondly, if Modi really was “incorruptible”, he would not have left the post of Lokayukta vacant for over a decade between 2003 and 2013 [16] Further, he would have ensured these allegations were investigated with full sincerity, and punished the officials or ministers involved. If he could spare 10 police officers to snoop on a girl, how was he unaware of his close colleague and successor, Anandiben’s land deals?

Also, keep in mind that the same “Army lover” and “Nationalist” Mr Modi allocated 93 acres of land to Raheja Group at ₹470 per sq meter [17] and charged  South-West Air Command (SWAC) of the Indian Air Force ₹1100 per sq meter for 100 acres land. This clearly shows that the crony capitalists are more important to Mr Modi than our Armed Forces. [18]

The Birth of Symbiotic Oligarchy in Gujarat       

Among Mr Modi’s close crony capitalist friends, one name is the most prominent – that of Mr Gautam Adani. With humble origins and success from Diamond trading in Mumbai, Mr Adani had moved to Gujarat during mid 90s, and grown impressively. Yet, as Modi was sworn in as the CM on October 6th 2001, Adani was still a relatively modest player with a turnover of around ₹3000 Crores, its market value was 1/500th of the Reliance Group at the time. [19]

Between 1995 and 2001, Gujarat politics in general and the state BJP in particular went through a period of great churn. With elections scheduled for Gujarat in 2003, LK Advani replaced Keshubhai Patel with Modi, a political novice then, choosing him over senior state leaders. Advani was planning to make a run for PM and Gujarat was a key state for the BJP. To make sure he controlled Gujarat, he wanted an outsider in charge of Gujarat who would be dependent on the party’s high command for his legitimacy.

Modi took charge of Gujarat in 2001, knowing he would have to win the state elections. He did not want to depend on Pramod Mahajan, who was managing the BJP’s finances. Modi wanted his own source of funds, but this was not easy. Industry was suspicious of this RSS pracharak. Modi was suspicious of industry. In his first year, Modi kept all businessmen at an arm’s length. Modi distrusted Adani due to his rapid rise and thought he was too close to rival Keshubhai. It took Adani a year, from October 2001 to September 2002 to find his way into Modi’s inner circle.

It was the Gujarat genocide of 2002, that changed the fortunes of both men.
The religious polarization of the violence was en-cashed shamelessly by BJP and Modi. They helped BJP win the 2002 elections with massive gains. Modi, the relatively unknown pracharak, captured the imagination of the Sangh, and was able to mount a coup against even Prime Minister Vajpayee.

However, the violence had cost the industry ₹20,000 Crores, making local and foreign investors jittery about their prospects in Gujarat. New investment inflows had all but dried up by September 2002. In February 2003, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)—the country’s biggest and most important business trade association—held a special session at its auditorium in New Delhi: “Meeting with Narendra Modi, the New Chief Minister of Gujarat”. The meeting was organised on a special request from Modi.

During this event, doyens of Indian Industry, such as Mr Godrej and Mr Bajaj, publicly expressed concerns about Gujarat again. Mr Modi was furious. “You and your pseudo-secular friends,” Modi roared at the leaders of Indian industry, “can come to Gujarat if you want an answer.” Modi asked Godrej and Bajaj: “Others have vested interest in maligning Gujarat. What is your interest?”[20]

Modi carried his fury back to Gujarat. Within a few days, a group of Gujarati businessmen close to Modi—including Gautam Adani of Adani Group, Indravadan Modi of Cadila Pharmaceuticals, Karsan Patel of Nirma Group, and Anil Bakeri of Bakeri Engineers—had established a rival organisation, which they called the Resurgent Group of Gujarat (RGG), all of whose members threatened to withdraw from the CII on the grounds that it had humiliated and insulted Modi and all Gujaratis.

Adani pledged a sum of ₹15,000 crore for the first Vibrant Gujarat summit in September-October 2003. He thereafter cemented his association with Modi and became his ardent supporter, lobbying for him in India and abroad.[21]

Back in Delhi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government began to limit the CII’s access to its ministers, jeopardizing the group’s core mission as a lobbying organisation. CII had to eventually back down. The businessmen who had shown moral courage to speak up against Modi were forced to praise him, in order to get access. The businessmen from Gujarat who did chamchagiri would be rewarded handsomely by Mr Modi. Within next decade, most businessmen will learn the drill – turn up at events like Vibrant Gujarat, praise Mr Modi, he will re-tweet it, and give you and your company publicity, and he will help you in return. Gujarat, a state previously known for having a flourishing Small and Medium enterprises sector and a co-operative sector, will start turning into an Oligarchy, with a small group of companies dominating many key infrastructure sectors.

The Result of the Quid-Pro-Quo

Adani’s growth has exploded since 2003-04, funded extensively by banks. In 2006-07, the group had revenues of ₹16,953 crore and debt of ₹4,353 crore. By 2012-13, revenues stood at ₹47,352 crore and debt at ₹61,762 crore.


This extraordinary growth has given rise to persistent allegations that the Gujarat government extended undue benefits to the Adani group.

§  Between 2006 and 2009, Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation bought natural gas from the open market and sold it to Adani Energy at a price lower than the purchase price; the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) says the company received an undue benefit of ₹70.5 crore.

§  CAG observed that Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam recovered a penalty of 79.8 crore from Adani Power for its failure to supply power between August 2009 and January 2012, against the auditor’s calculation, based on the power purchase agreement, of ₹240 crore.


§  In 2009, the DRI issued a fresh set of two show-cause notices alleging that associate companies of Adani group – HEPL, ACPL and MOL, had allegedly availed of extraordinary benefits under the TPS, also indulged in fraudulent “circular trading” by importing gold bars from the UAE and then exporting the goods in the form of crude studded gold jewelry purity back to the UAE. By an order dated April 9, 2015 which was issued more than four months later on August 26 that year,Customs, Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT) members Anil Choudhary and P.S. Pruthi summarily dropped all the charges against the Adani Group. The DRI, under Modi Government, has thus far been strangely reticent about filing a review petition in the Supreme Court that could protect its revenue interests to the tune of  ₹1000 Crores. [22]

§  After coming to power in the centre, Mr Adani has travelled extensively and won several deals with the blessings of Mr Modi. These include new coal investments in Queensland, Australia, and also a Joint Venture with Elbit of Israel to supply the Helmet Mounted display System for the Rafale jet being bought for IAF under the renegotiated Rafale deal.

§  In August 2016, the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Rules, 2016, were amended by the Department of Commerce to insert a provision that allowed for claims for refund under the SEZ Act, 2005. The amendment was made to specifically provide Adani Power Limited an opportunity to claim refunds on customs duty to the tune of ₹500 crore.[23]
§   


Mr Modi used Adani’s business jet extensively during the 2014 elections campaign. [24] Several Police officers of Gujarat Police, whose conduct in 2002 was under suspicion, and who possibly shielded Mr Modi by destroying police records, were given lucrative positions in Adani Group after their retirement. In March 2013, after it became evident that Modi would be unceremoniously dropped as a keynote speaker at a public function organised by the Wharton School of Business in the United States because of pressure from academics and students opposed to him, the Adani group, one of the main sponsors of the event, withdrew its financial support.

The Coal Over-invoicing scam

Mr Adani was the central player in a scam to import coal at an inflated prices from his own Indonesian subsidiary, and equipment at inflated prices from its other subsidiaries based in Dubai and Hong Kong. This was eventually being passed on to the end consumers of the coal, in this case, the domestic consumers paying a higher tariff for their electricity generated out of the thermal power plants operated by Mr Adani (and a few others)

In effect, this was a money laundering operation, where profits from Indian operations were being hidden and transferred abroad to tax havens. [25][26][27]



This scam was investigated by Enforcement Directorate (ED), who levied a fine of ₹5,500 Crores on Mr Adani.

According to a senior ED official associated with the SIT, if the Adani case reaches its logical conclusion, the group would have had to pay a fine of around ₹15,000 crore. ‘It is a watertight case,’ he said, about the trail of documents showing how the group diverted ₹5,468 crore to Mauritius via Dubai. The Adani group vehemently denies any wrongdoing. Modi, after his rhetoric-filled ride to power, has been silent.[28]

Since Modi’s ascension to office, what has happened in the ED, which had registered a preliminary case against Adani in Ahmedabad and was handed details of ED findings, is illustrative. JP Singh, the officer heading the Ahmedabad branch of the Directorate was raided by the CBI, which accused him of possessing disproportionate assets. It failed to prove anything at all, despite months of investigation. JP Singh was an award winning officer who had exposed a huge hawala racket of ₹10,000 crore and a cricket-betting racket, which involved more than ₹5,000 crore.

Think about it, had Mr JP Singh really been a corrupt officer as is being alleged by Modi’s regime now, would he not have ensured that all these big cases were never probed? Would he not have settled with Mr Adani for a few hundred crores easily? Wouldn’t it reflect in his lifestyle? According to Mr JP Singh’s colleagues, he still led a very modest life, and traveled by taxis and public transport. [29]

The two senior-most officers in the Mumbai regional office, who oversaw the investigations in Ahmedabad, were forced out of the agency. Mr JP Singh’s boss, Principal Commissioner PK Dash was shunted out and given a side posting to an academy in Mumbai.[30] The tenure of Rajan S. Katoch, who was heading the directorate when the case was opened, also ended abruptly. Apart from the Adani case, the Ahmedabad ED investigators were also pursuing some of the biggest money launderers of Gujarat.

Interestingly, soon after Modi government came to power in New Delhi, Adani’s import scam unearthed by ED was transferred to a different investigating unit. Normally, Money laundering and FEMA violations are under the jurisdiction of ED. [31]

Updates:

Soon after the publication of this article on 25th July 2017, two developments worth noting have happened in this case.

1.    On 15th August 2017, Noted British paper, The Guardian, published the full details of the meticulous and detailed ED investigation on the Money trail in the over invoicing scam mentioned above. [32] They even posted the links to pages from the actual investigation in public domain for everyone to see. You would think this was an explosive newsworthy expose of the businessman so close to Mr Modi. Strangely, almost everyone in mainstream Indian media did not bother to even report this story! [33]

2.    Then, just 10 days later, on 25th Aug 2017, while the media in India was busy over rioting by the supporters of a sect (“Sachha-Sauda”) whose Guru had been arrested on rape charges, the adjudicating authority of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), K V S Singh passed an order striking down all proceedings launched by the DRI against the Adani Group firms. One wonders what was the real deal (Sachha Sauda) that this judgement was so conveniently timed for Mr Adani, was buried in other major news. [34]

Incriminating evidence of direct corruption


 What we have listed above thus far is a list of cases that arouse suspicion of foul play but were either never investigated properly – as in the case of cases from Gujarat, or where an ongoing investigation on a favoured crony friend was derailed and swept under the carpet, as in the case of over invoicing scam by the Enforcement Directorate.

Before we discuss the next section, just remember that a note of “AP FAM” in the case of Agusta Westland investigations was enough for a lot of people to conclude that it must mean Ahmad Patel and the Gandhi family. In the Bihar’s fodder scam, CM Laloo Yadav was convicted by a CBI court purely on the circumstantial evidence that he appeared to have extended the term of two of the officers who were found to be complicit in the scam. [35]

In October 2013, when the Central Bureau of Investigation raided the New Delhi office of an Aditya Birla Group company, in connection with then ongoing investigations in Hindalco coal block allocations scam. The CBI found about Rs 25 crore unaccounted cash and several documents described as “incriminating” and informed the Income Tax department, which then conducted a raid the next day.

These searches and seizures led to papers and email conversations relating to unaccounted cash, hawala transactions and what appear to be corrupt practices involving investigative wings of the government of India and payoffs to important politicians, including “Gujarat CM – Rs 25 crore (12-done-rest?)”

In a separate investigation, the Income Tax department raided Sahara on November 22, 2014 which led to the unearthing of computer printouts with purported details on possible payoffs to senior politicians in clearly legible words, with references, as it emerged later, to alleged payments made between 2013 and March 2014,[36]to:



§  Rs 40 crore “cash given at Ahmedabad, Modiji” [In other documents they are referred to as, “cash given to CM Gujarat”]
§  Rs 10 crore given to CM of Madhya Pradesh [Shivraj Singh Chouhan]
§  Rs 4 crore to CM of Chhattisgarh [Raman Singh]
§  Rs 1 crore to CM of Delhi who at that time was Sheila Dikshit.


A PIL seeking investigation of this was dismissed by a SC bench of Justice Mishra and Justice Roy.  The main ground for dismissal was that the Honorable Judges did not consider these entries as “Books of account”, as they did not have a spiral or permanent binding (a definition from a pre-computers era!) and because the documents were not part of official accounts.

They overlooked to check if any other cash movements in any related accounts corroborated these entries. In this case, the Sahara amounts tally with entries in the ledgers of Marcomm, from where the money paid to politicians was received and distributed, as evidenced by the available Marcomm Excel sheets. Needless to mention, this judgement sets a very dangerous precedent. Corruption tends to be off-the-books. Most criminals do not keep an actual book of account detailing their activities. In future, this judgement may be used as a defense by many. Whether or not this bribe was actually given can only be established after a detailed investigation.

Strangely, the Honorable judges also observe (Section 21 on page 16 of the judgement):

We are constrained to observe that the Court has to be on guard while ordering investigation against any important constitutional functionary, officers or any person in the absence of some cogent legally cognizable material.

Ask yourself, what if the same court had been “on guard” while ordering investigations against Union Minister A Raja? Would the 2G scam have ever been uncovered?

Justice Arun Mishra, a former Madhya Pradesh HC judge is close to Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan, a co-accused in the Sahara bribery case, but Justice Mishra failed to recuse himself from hearing this case, which raises serious questions about his professional conduct.[37] Justice Mishra missed elevation to the Supreme Court three times before he was elevated to the Supreme Court in July 2014, six weeks after Modi took charge as prime minister. A few months later, the same bench ordered re-opening of the cases against Mr Laloo Yadav.

Conclusion            

As this article mentioned in the beginning, RTI became an important tool in the hand of activists towards unraveling corruption cases. Mr. Modi’s PMO has been stonewalling several RTIs relating to his degree. A CIC who ordered Delhi University to release this information was immediately removed.

The institutions of CVC, CIC, CAG and ED have been diluted under his rule. This is a repeat of the pattern seen during the 13 years of his rule in Gujarat where Lokayukta wasn’t appointed, and CAG reports were ignored, and demands of even investigations into several suspicious cases of officials giving favours to cronies were never investigated.

Power corrupts. Absolute, unchallenged power, as Mr Modi has, even more so.

Even Rajiv Gandhi had agreed to a JPC probe on Bofors. Despite far more incriminating Prima Facie evidence against Modi, he will never do so. His opposition has been weak, and his control over media narrative and his party has been very strong.

Mr Modi’s image has been built upon a foundation of fake news, media management and suppression of institutions that typically expose corruption in a democracy. The way his government has favoured Adani over the over-invoicing probe, Ambani over 4G Scam, and both of them on Rafale Deal, without as much of a whimper of protest, should be a sufficient indicator of his style.



Corruption continues unabated, in fact it is being done more brazenly now, while people are constantly being distracted over non-issues such as Beef, GauRakhaks, Digging dirt on rivals etc by his pet media – largely controlled by the same oligarchs.
It must be stressed here that corruption in politicians can come in many forms – a typical corrupt politician may brazenly embezzle funds or seek bribes to enrich his own family members.

Now, let us look at Vladimir Putin of Russia, who has presided over the world’s most corrupt Oligarchy (some times described as Kleptocracy). Putin’s known personal fortune is modest 2 flats in Moscow. His daughter Katerina holds a simple academic job as a researcher of History in St. Petersburg University. However, dig below the surface and you will realize that this is just a facade. Putin’s associates are worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and these funds are available at Putin’s disposal for his political needs.

Mr Modi has copied the Putin Model. He too doesn’t appear to indulge in the first sort of corruption. The bribes and favours he has taken are to help the Sangh Parivar, or his own self-promotion, not cash for his immediate family, who maintain a facade of modest lifestyles, even walk to bank to withdraw ₹4000 when a political need arises. His crony friends lavishly fund the expensive campaigns when  elections are held.
Eventually, both forms of corruption are equally harmful for a country. The nation’s security is compromised if inexperienced JV partners are chosen to favour cronies in exchange for benefits in “kind”, irrespective of any cash bribe having been paid or not. The taxpayers hard earned money is wasted when we buy an aircraft at an inflated price, irrespective of actual bribe being taken by the decision makers.
Supporting a person complicit of abetting heinous crimes such as mass murder, just because he has an “honest” image, is as foolish as marrying a serial rapist because he files his tax returns on time. What if you then discover that this news about him filing his tax returns was a result of fake propaganda and media management, and was not the truth?

“He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”-Monty Python, Life of Brian

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