South Asia

A Coercive Democracy?

Imagine the opposition leader of a major democracy being bundled off to jail for supposedly defaming the surname of the ruling party’s leader but it is exactly what has happened in India.  Rahul Gandhi has been given a two-year sentence and has 30 days to appeal.  The case was originally brought by a plaintiff named Purnesh Modi in 2019; he is a member of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly and a BJP stalwart. 

It is certainly odd that the incident in question occurred not in the recent past but in 2019.  Why 2023 for the hearing is then the obvious question until one is informed that Indian elections are to be held in 2024 and the main opposition leader behind bars will certainly make the job of the ruling BJP much easier.  It all sounds very much like someone dusted off the files and wondered what could be done with the whole affair. 

In his speech, Gandhi apparently pointed out recent notable fraud cases in India — the fugitive Indian diamond tycoon Nirav Modi, the Indian Premier (cricket) League chief Lalit Modi and added the name Narendra Modi.  He then used the words which became the basis of the trial:  “Why do all thieves have Modi as their surname?”  Thus the complainant could say he had “defamed the entire Modi community.”  To make matters worse, Modi is not an uncommon name in Gujarat. 

There is more than a grain of truth in Gandhi’s charge.  For example, there is Modi’s friend and supporter Gautam Shantilal Adani.  He heads one of the top three industrial conglomerates in India, the Adani Group, with personal wealth in excess of $30 billion. 

Hindenburg Research is a group which focuses on activist short selling.  They noticed that Adani was using an auditing firm with 11 employees, four of whom were partners in the firm, as auditors for an enterprise worth $100 billion.  Given the size, most reputable auditors would virtually have an office there to monitor activity.

Hindenburg’s scathing review of Adani enterprises showed opportunities for a huge profit or the short side.  Following a 2-year investigation, they published a well researched 32-page report, and their clients certainly profited.  The $100 billion value is down to $45 billion and for the individual investor the stock is down since January from about 4 to 2 thousand rupees. 

To return to Rahul Gandhi:  There was a reason for his maximum two-year sentence.  It turns out that if a parliamentary member is sentenced to two years or more in jail, he has to vacate his seat in the legislative assembly.  His comments to the press recalled his great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru’s (India’s first prime minister) time in British jails and likening himself as a similar martyr to tyranny.

One has to wonder if Rahul is the brightest bulb in the Nehru pantheon when he wants to relinquish a platform that easily.  Fewer opposition critics would suit Modi fine.

There may, however, be a bright side though it remains to be seen.  The fractured opposition (including Rahul Gandhi’s Congress Party) having observed what has been done to him have an incentive to come together and form a united front against the BJP.  How successful they will be remains to be seen.  Just that it can’t be any worse than it is now.

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for Antiwar.com, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.

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