Twist in India’s election battle as Modi accuses rival of taking money from billionaires Adani and Ambani

Ambani and Adani, two of Asia’s richest men, are said to enjoy close ties to the prime minister

Shweta Sharma
Friday 10 May 2024 06:09 BST
Narendra Modi accused Rahul Gandhi of taking money from Ambani and Adani

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has claimed without evidence that his chief rival took “truckloads” of illegal money from billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani, in one of the most unexpected twists in the heated election battle.

Mr Ambani and Mr Adani, two of Asia’s richest men, are said to enjoy close ties to the prime minister. Mr Modi arrived in Delhi for his first inauguration as prime minister in 2014 on a private jet emblazoned with Mr Adani’s logo, and his face accompanied frontpage advertisements announcing the formal launch of Mr Ambani’s telecoms company Jio, which has since rapidly risen to become a major player in a highly lucrative and competitive market.

Mr Modi’s latest attack on Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party has triggered a debate about the sudden change of thrust in the prime minister’s campaign speeches, with analysts speculating that his party was doubtful of its performance in the election so far.

Addressing a rally in southern Telangana state on Wednesday, Mr Modi accused Mr Gandhi of striking a deal with the billionaires.

“For five years, the Congress prince abused Ambani and Adani and now suddenly you have stopped. Meaning, you have accepted truckloads of illegal funds. You will have to answer to the country about this," Mr Modi said.

He was “sensing something fishy” as the Congress party’s attack on the two billionaires had stopped overnight, the prime minister added.

Mr Gandhi responded in a video statement saying Mr Modi was “nervous” about how the election was going.

He challenged the prime minister to send investigative agencies to prove his allegation.

“Modiji, are you nervous? Normally you speak of Adani and Ambani in closed rooms. It is for the first time you have taken their names in public,” Mr Gandhi said. “You even know they send money in truckloads, is that your personal experience?”

“Send CBI, ED to them, get a thorough inquiry done as soon as possible,” he said, referring to federal agencies Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate, both of which Mr Modi’s government has been accused of weaponising against opposition leaders.

"I want to repeat to the nation that the amount of money Modi has given to them, we are going to give the same amount to India’s poor,” he added, referring to Mr Ambani and Mr Adani.

Rahul Gandhi speaks during a rally in Pune (AFP via Getty)

Mr Modi’s attack came after Mr Gandhi’s consistent swipes at the prime minister and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party for allegedly having close links with business tycoons and championing policies favouring the wealthy over the poor.

Mr Ambani and Mr Adani come from Mr Modi‘s home state of Gujarat where their multinational corporations maintain major business operations.

The prime minister, who has been in power for a decade and is seeking a third consecutive term, had refrained from mentioning their names on the campaign trail so far.

Neither industrialist has publicly stated who they might support in the ongoing election and their corporations did not respond to requests for comment.

Narendra Modi at an election campaign rally in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh (Reuters)

Political analysts said Mr Modi’s attack seeking to link Mr Gandhi to the billionaires was an attempt to confuse voters. It also displayed his anxiousness over low voter turnout, they said.

The three phases of polling so far have seen lower turnout than the previous election in 2019, putting in doubt opinion polls that predicted a landslide victory for the ruling party. The election is spread over seven phases of voting, with the results due to be declared on 4 June.

Apoorvanand, a professor at the University of Delhi, told The Independent that Mr Modi’s baseless allegation against Mr Gandhi was intended to shape a narrative.

“Mr Modi is creating a talking point to create confusion in Mr Gandhi’s electorate so that people forget facts and get entangled in the narrative. This is meant to direct the media’s relentless attacks on Congress party to clarify,” he said.

“The Indian prime minister is definitely anxious and desperate because he has started loving power and led in the illusion that he is going to win. He fears losing power unlike other democrats,” he added.

But he did not believe that Mr Modi made the comment to distance himself from the corporate moguls as he “has come to power riding the shoulders of these billionaires”.

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