Police carried out early morning raids yesterday on the NewsClick office and the homes of almost 50 journalists, activists, and comedians across India under anti-terrorism laws, deepening concerns over a crackdown on freedom of expression in the country. The journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, the activist Teesta Setalvad, and the comedian Sanjay Rajoura were also among those raided and taken in for police questioning. After the questioning Paranjoy Guha Thakurta told journalists that a FIR has been lodged ‘apparently’ under the Unlawful Activities Preventions Act.
#WATCH | Delhi: Journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta working as a consultant with NewsClick says, "Nine police personnel came to my home in Gurugram at 6:30 in the morning. They asked me various questions. I came with them voluntarily to the Special Cell of the Delhi Police. The… pic.twitter.com/kgWCR1iWSG
— ANI (@ANI) October 3, 2023
This conversation with Paranjoy Guha Thakurta was held in February 2023 when he came to Kerala for the release of the book ‘Adani Empire: Beyond Crony Capitalism‘ published by Transition Studies
What was the situation that led to the Ahmedabad court order directing you not to comment or criticize Adani and its business entities?
Such a judgment comes in the case following the publication of a series of articles titled ‘Justice Arun Mishra’s Final ‘Gift’ of Rs 8,000 Crore to Adani’. It was an order from the Ahmedabad Magistrate’s Court in September 2020. A series of three articles written by Abir Dasgupta and myself were published by NewsClick. The judge was of the view that its content and especially its title lowered the esteem of the judiciary in the eyes of the public of India. Therefore, the court prohibited me and Abir Dasgupta from commenting on and criticizing the Adani Group. At first, it was a civil case against defamation and later it turned into a criminal defamation case. Then the NewsClick’s lawyers appealed to the High Court. After this case, I did not respond to the Adani issue for two and a half years in public.
How did you manage to speak freely and break your silence after two and a half years?
Two and a half years later, even as the court order against me remained, I decided on my own to reveal the facts to the outside world. I will not share my personal opinions with you, just facts. Every citizen is free to draw a conclusion from the facts I share. If I say that the share markets of Adani companies fell after January 24, it is not an opinion. I’m not saying it’s good or not as well. It is up to you to draw a conclusion or analyze its different aspects. What the court has blocked is my expression of opinion. That is how I am convinced. I don’t know if the judge who issued the order meant more than that.
Was the Hindenburg Report a reason for the decision to share the facts?
Is it not a fact that the Hindenburg Research Report confirms what I have been telling the world for so long? Independent journalists like me and my colleagues like Ravi Nair and Abir Dasgupta have been saying these facts since 2015. An important report of mine on Adani came in April 2016 after I became an editor at the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW). I shared its contents with the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Revenue Department, Finance Ministry, Customs Department etc. I handed over information to them about financial irregularities in the importation of coal and power generation equipment by over-invoicing by about forty private and government firms. Adani’s companies were also involved in it. All this information is mentioned in the Hindenburg Research Report.
Are you sure there won’t be any other court proceedings against you for sharing such facts now in the context of the Ahmedabad Magistrate court order?
How can I tell what will happen in the future? How can Gautam Adani tell what will happen tomorrow? Just as I cannot say now what will happen to Narendra Modi in the 2024 elections, so are the possibilities of cases that could be filed against me in the future.
You are the only Indian media person e mentioned in the Hindenburg Research report released on January 24, 2023. Can you tell me the details?
Apart from me, media houses like CNBC and Economic Times were also mentioned in it. The Hindenburg report had 88 questions for Adani Group to answer. My name was mentioned in the eighty-fourth question. The question is, ‘Gautam Adani, if you believe in freedom of expression and freedom of speech, why did you go to the steps of arresting a journalist named Paranjoy Guha Thakurta? The lawyer for the Adani group replied that ‘we have no part in it, it is a decision of a court’. That is true in a sense.
I feel that the public should be told what actually happened when the Adani Group responded to this case in the Hindenberg Report. The case was related to an article published in the Economic and Political Weekly in June 2017 when I was editor. The article was reprinted by The Wire (https://thewire.in). That article titled Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group is still available to readers. This happened in July 2017. After that, the Adani Group approached the court in Gujarat. They filed civil and criminal cases in Bhuj and Mundra in Gujarat. I have appeared thrice in the court of First Class Magistrate, Mundra, Gujarat.
The Bhuj Magistrate in the civil case did not ask for the complete withdrawal of the article. What the magistrate asked to do was to retract one word, one sentence of that article and so did The Wire. To the surprise of all of us, in May 2019, the Adani Group decided to withdraw the cases against my co-authors and The Wire and to continue the case against me only before the results were announced after the Lok Sabha elections. Then the court was closed during the Covid. So in January 2021, a journalist friend of the Press Trust of India (PTI) called me and informed me that the Mundra court had issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against me. Many others had received this information before even my lawyer knew about it. Then I appeared in court and my lawyer argued that the arrest warrant issued against me was against Supreme Court guidelines. Ten days later, the Gujarat High Court got a stay order for this warrant, so my arrest was avoided. Following this, I appeared in court in February and March 2021. That case is still ongoing.
What is the current status of your cases?
Now both the cases are going on in the Mundra court. Three other cases are pending in the Ahmedabad court and that is where the ban on not talking about the Adani issue came from. I am the only person in India facing six defamation cases filed by Adani’s company. Recently, another criminal case for defamation has been registered against me and my co-writer Abir Dasgupta and the NewsClick portal in the Baran district of Rajasthan. The sixth case relates to the publication of an article written by AICC member Varun Santhosh and myself on my own website (https://paranjoy.in) under ‘The A Files’ section. The Hindenburg Report mentions many of the documents and reports published in it.
Why would EPW, a well-known independent media, ask you to retract the article on Adani, questioning their credibility?
Only Samiksha Trust can say the reason and its Chairman Prof. Deepak Nayyar is bound to answer that. But I can share things related to my resignation. The article, titled Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group, was about how one company, Adani Power, was able to make huge gains as a result of the government’s policy changes in power sector projects for Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Along with me, the Trust and the publisher had received legal notices from Adani Power’s firm regarding this article. I had replied directly to the notice sent to me by my lawyer. Then the Samiksha Trust asked me for an explanation for not seeking permission from the publisher prior to replying to the solicitor’s notice. Samiksha Trust pointed out that it was a serious failure on my part and it was an act of great impropriety. Although I did not think so, I considered it a technical error on my part and apologized to the Trust.
They also alleged that I have acted in various ways to destroy the reputation of the publication EPW. So I was told that like my predecessors, I would no longer be able to write articles in EPW under my own name and that they were going to hire an associate editor. They also said that I should not leave the office without withdrawing the article from the website. Having done so I wrote my resignation letter on a piece of paper and submitted it to the Trust. The reactions that followed when the news spread across the world surprised me. Hundreds of people responded by supporting me. Among them were Nobel laureates Amartya Sen and Angus Deaton, and Noam Chomsky, whom I greatly respect.
Could the continued legal action against you be part of a conspiracy even after the charges against The Wire and your colleagues were dropped? What is the reason you are targeted? Who could be behind that?
This is a very relevant question. But I don’t know the answer to that. Gautam Adani and his lawyers can answer this.
You are not only writing an article but also publishing a lot of important documents that validate the arguments in it. Could it be the consequences it creates that prompt Adani to take such a strong stand against you?
That is your opinion. I can’t say whether that’s right or wrong. All I can say is the facts and you can come to any conclusion. Freedom of speech for every citizen of India is envisaged in the Constitution of India.
It’s a well-known fact that Adani is a big source of election funds for Modi and BJP. Do you think the Hindenburg report and the crisis in the share market that Adani companies are currently facing will have a decisive impact on the next election?
I don’t know what will happen in the 2024 elections. Did we expect Pulwama and Balakot before the 2019 elections? Let me tell you some things that surprised me. On January 25, the day after the Hindenburg Research report, Adani Group’s flagship company, Adani Enterprises, opened its Follow-on Public Offer (FPO) by offering Rs 20,000 crore shares to the public. A follow-on public offer is a process by which a company listed on the stock exchange issues new shares to investors, existing shareholders or promoters. FPOs are used by companies to diversify their equity base and raise capital for their business. The day after the opening of the FPO was a public holiday as it was Republic Day. The central budget was presented on February 1. Let me tell you what happened in the meantime. Immediately after Adani Company’s FPO of Rs 20,000 crores, there was a positive response from the share market. But then its value began to decline. When the FPO ended on January 31, everyone thought Adani’s crisis was over. Naturally, on the day the budget was presented, the value of shares of many companies went up and down. But Adani Group was down. Later, to everyone’s surprise, Adani Enterprises made a formal announcement at 10.30 pm that it was withdrawing its Follow-on Public Offer and returning the money to those who had invested. The next morning, Gautam Adani said in a video that he was withdrawing the FPO on moral grounds. But before that, the Adani Group had alleged that the Hindenburg report shared baseless information about his company and that it was intended to tarnish his reputation and that of his country.When the chief financial officer of Adani Group held a press conference on that day, the national flag of India was larger than the logo of Adani Group. He also made a reference to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in his message that the British soldiers used Indian soldiers to shoot Indians and so on. After all this, we all know that since January 24, the value of all shares of Adani Group has fallen by 50-70 percent. Let’s wait and see the consequences of this in the political and economic spheres.
Did you help Hindenburg Research Organization to publish the report that came out about Adani companies?
Many people have asked me this question. I had not even heard the name of such an organization until that report came out. I only know about Paul Von Hindenburg who ruled Germany. All I knew was that he commanded the Imperial German Army during World War I and later held that position as President of Germany from 1925 until his death.
You are a person who is constantly writing about crony capitalism and the crises it creates in democracy and the financial sector. How does political economy become a central theme of your media intervention?
While I am a journalist, I am also a student studying the political economy of India and the world. I studied Economics at Delhi University and later I completed my post graduation from Delhi School of Economics. Since then I have written on various topics, produced documentaries, and published some books. I was also a part-time teacher. I have been in the media for over 45 years and I have prepared reports on all important business establishments. I published a book on Ambani in 2014 called Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis.
How do you happen to focus on Adani?
I have never focused on any particular business entity. I have been researching and writing about Adani when he became the second and third richest man in the world in a short period of time. His growth was truly astonishing. Adani said in an interview that the policies of the Rajiv Gandhi government and the liberalization policies of the P. V. Narasimha Rao government initially helped his business grow in Gujarat. His decline today is as dramatic and surprising as his growth since then. I have always been interested in the nexus between politics and business and the give and take between them. And of course, it has a lot to do with our elections and democratic systems.
Crony capitalism is not a new phenomenon in India. It has been functioning in India and the world for a long time. But what is the difference in its operation in India before and after Narendra Modi came to power?
A significant change that can be seen is the shift from crony capitalism to oligarchic capitalism. It can be seen that the special treatment that was given to a group of business organizations before Modi’s regime is now concentrated in one company. On the other hand, Birla, Tata, Reliance, and many other companies have been able to influence the government’s policy programs in the past. Learning these things is my interest but it is not just hatred or opposition to Adani. It can be seen that Modi is implementing more extreme right-wing policies than the right-wing policies during the UPA government. During the UPA government, the welfare state, rights of citizens, relief measures for the marginalized, rights of women, farmers, tribals, etc., and economic growth for all were often heard. Moreover, some policy programs and activities in that direction had also taken place those days. It is a fact that even then the policies were in favor of the wealthy class. Politicians and business firms have always been close. This was the case even before India gained independence.
The main difference now is that Adani’s company has an unprecedented influence on the Indian economy and dominates almost every sector of business. Adani established his business in the diamond and plastic waste sector and twenty years ago, people did not know about Adani. Very soon he becomes the second and third richest person in the world. It can be said that there are no major areas of business in the country where Adani is not investing today. The government is also supporting him to open business opportunities for him regardless of his previous experience in the fields of airport and fighter aircraft manufacturing.
Isn’t the distribution of wealth essential, even though it would not bring equity, to the survival and success of capitalism? So wouldn’t oligarchic capitalism, confined its benefits to one person, be a threat to the economic system of capitalism itself?
That’s right. It appears that the problems with Adani have little to do with any economic and political ideology. Suppose you are someone who thinks capitalism is the best. Aren’t there some rules and regulations for that too? What is the purpose of institutions like SEBI and Reserve Bank? Even in America, there is a Securities and Exchange Commission. It can be seen that Adani’s company is not complying with any system existing in India. The Hindenburg Research report says that Adani is following his own rules. That is why the investigation by SEBI has not been concluded even after months and no report has come out. I would say that what is happening in India now is not capitalist economic policies. Capitalism is about a level playing field. There is no possibility of competition among different business enterprises here now.
What were the circumstances that led you to meet Adani?
I have met and spoken to Gautam Adani twice. I first met him when I was working at EPW in 2017. The second meeting was in February 2021. All conversations were conducted on the understanding that they would be off the record. My lawyer took the initiative in the hope that the cases could be settled out of court. A telephone conversation was also held with him recently. It was after the Hindenburg Report. The main talk was about FPO matters. Even then I requested him to withdraw the defamation cases against me. I can only say that he did not respond positively to it.
You have been dealing with court cases for several years. How has it affected your life and journalism?
The cases have affected my personal life, my family life, and my writing. My lawyers have to spend a lot of time and travel on my case. Apart from traveling to court in many places, hotel accommodations and meals are also expensive. My family was very worried when a non-bailable warrant was issued against me. They asked me to stop working on cases that the work I had done for so long was enough and that I should not become a martyr.
Is it in this situation that Adani was approached and an out-of-court settlement was sought?
The possibilities were already looked at and my lawyer has tried on his own. He had asked Adani why the cases were continuing only against me. It takes a lot of time to settle the case through normal court proceedings. Until then, money and time will have to be spent. Call it a SLAPP, Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. It is also a warning to others aimed at discouraging others from asking questions. I have co-authored a book with Subir Ghosh about this called ‘Sue the Messenger’. It is clear that if what we wrote offends someone, the lawsuits filed against it could eliminate the accused in a sense.
If the cases are dropped through an out-of-court settlement, isn’t that likely to be interpreted as your final surrender to Adani? And isn’t it possible that there could be clauses in the settlement that might affect you?
This question is very important. The answer depends on what the settlement is. It is impossible to say what will happen if a settlement is reached.
Isn’t it pathetic that your freedom of expression is being suppressed?
Article 19A of the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech to all citizens and journalists. Article 19(2) also allows for reasonable restriction on freedom of expression. That’s all I want to say now.
Do you wish there were more independent journalists like you?
How do I judge others? I can say that a large section of media workers are extremely loyal to the government in power. They are also subservient to corporate interests. There are very few journalists today who hold those in power accountable and ask tough questions. Narendra Modi is the only Prime Minister of India who does not hold a press conference without preparing it beforehand. Since becoming Prime Minister in May 2014, he has not faced questions from the media to date. He has given interviews only to a selected few and those journalists then asked only the questions the Prime Minister wanted. Do you remember the first question Akshay Kumar asked him in one such interview? Does Modi eat mango? The next question was whether he eats the mango cut or the whole.
A.K. Shiburaj is an independent journalist
The article was originally published in https://www.keraleeyammasika.com/