India’s Rahul Gandhi accuses Prime Minister Modi of favoring Adani Group

NEW DELHI — India’s chief opposition leader Rahul Gandhi launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday, saying he was targeted because he has raised serious questions about Modi’s relationship with Indian business conglomerate Adani Group.

Gandhi said the purpose of his expulsion from parliament on Friday was to prevent him from speaking in the legislature over his allegation of infusing an unaccounted $3 billion into shell companies owned by the Adani Group, directed by Gautam Adani.

“Some of these defense companies work on the development of drones and missiles and on the production of munitions. Why doesn’t the Defense Department ask questions,” he said.

Gandhi was expelled from parliament a day after a court convicted him of defamation and sentenced him to two years in prison for mocking the surname Modi in an election speech.

The actions against Gandhi, the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister, were widely condemned by opponents of Modi as the latest assault on democracy and freedom of expression by a ruling government seeking to suppress dissent. Removing Gandhi from politics was a major blow to the opposition party he led ahead of next year’s national elections.

Gandhi said he did not bother to lose his seat in parliament. “My job is to defend the country’s institutions and people’s voices,” he added.

A court in the western Indian city of Surat also sentenced him to two years in prison on Thursday. But he will not go to jail immediately as the court has granted 30 days bail to appeal the verdict.

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The court condemned Gandhi for a 2019 speech in which he asked, “Why do all thieves have Modi as their surname?” Gandhi then referred to three known and unrelated Modis in the speech: a fugitive Indian diamond magnate, a cricket manager banned from the Indian Premier League tournament and the Prime Minister.

On Saturday, Gandhi did not specify how soon his legal team will approach an appeals court to overturn his conviction so that he can keep his seat in parliament.

He accused Modi of helping the Adani Group win contracts in India, Sri Lanka and Australia.

He also alleged that a Chinese national was involved in investments in Adani shell companies. “Why doesn’t anyone ask who this Chinese citizen is,” he said. “No one knows where this money comes from. Adani could not generate this money.”

Gandhi has demanded an investigation by the parliamentary committee over a report by Hindenburg Research, the US financial research firm, accusing the Adani Group of stock price manipulation and fraud involving billions of dollars. The Adani group has denied all allegations and the Modi government has failed to heed calls for a parliamentary inquiry.

Shortly after Gandhi’s press conference, Ravi Shankar Prasad, a top leader of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party, rejected Gandhi’s allegations, saying his disqualification from parliament had nothing to do with the Adani Group controversy.

Since Modi became prime minister in 2014, Adani’s net worth has risen nearly 2,000% to $125 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. He surpassed Amazon boss Jeff Bezos to briefly become the world’s second richest man in September after a rise in the value of his seven publicly traded entities.

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Adani’s companies have won multi-billion dollar contracts to build ports, highways and power plants. The industrialist’s aspirations include developing drones and munitions, key to the government’s goal of boosting military exports to $5 billion while cutting costs for expensive imports.

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