Strategic attacks on our national interests

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Strategic attacks on our national interests

Monday, 06 November 2023 | Banuchandar Nagarajan

Strategic attacks on our national interests

As India’s economic clout grows, we can expect more attacks from foreign powers, that specifically target companies engaged in nation building

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

 - Marcus Aurelius.

The ongoing saga of TMC MP Mahua Moitra has once again opened a can of worms that we thought we had already shut about a couple of decades ago. The murky world of cash for questions! One of the perceived weaknesses of open parliamentary democracies is that state and non-state actors take perverse advantage of the freedoms offered and attempt to manipulate them for selfish gains. While in this case, the Hiranandani group seems to be the centre of the controversy, it will be nearly impossible to eradicate the chicanery in general.

Many NGOs including foreign-funded ones, that too under the MHA watchlist, meet with government officials of various state and central governments and discuss issues. In some cases, grassroots politicians or their aides, who don’t have a great grasp of policy issues, seek out external help to ask questions. Those perhaps would have happened a few times.

But what we read about the TMC MP’s case is that she has allegedly run a persistent campaign against the Adani group with such a modus operandi. But what has been heartening is that the custodians of our freedoms- democratic institutions and leadership - have come to our rescue from the destructive propaganda.

While the allegations against Ms Moitra are being investigated, it will also be pertinent to look at the lobbying ecosystem in India. It came into the limelight during the recent passage of the Data Protection Act, where half of Delhi’s lawyers and sundry lobbyists were badgering the government continuously to open Indian data up. We should be cautious about going the US way, where K-street lawyers have been notoriously influential in all things policy.

Coming back to the Moitra-Hiranandani story, what has been especially wicked is that a corporate rivalry has been used to attack Indian institutions, especially the Prime Minister of India and besmirch his name. This happens when unimaginative politics takes over. When the opposition has little creativity in proposing strong alternate policies, they resort to chicanery and ad hominem attacks. The repeated disruption in parliament is also part of the tactic.

The BJP has been running a campaign on foreign interference with India’s affairs for a while now. It was the “toolkit gang” before and now it is the “Soros gang”. And with the 2024 elections approaching, the stakes are high for these forces, as a third-time victory will be a body blow. Forces of darkness will be readying up their army for a large-scale information war.

The attack on the Adani group from Hindenburg is part of the stratagem. What is indefensible is that, as one of the senior-most bureaucrats pointed out, Hindenburg is both the producer of the dubious hit job of a report and also the benefactor of short positions against the Adani group shares. The short seller has no presence or domicile in India. Therefore, there would hardly be any legal repercussions against the short seller in this saga. This was followed by concerted attacks by activist foreign publications that never had anything good to say about India.

The Supreme Court in its report did not point to any major wrongdoing by the Adanis. The shares of Adani Enterprises share though have not recovered the highs of pre-Hindenburg, but have posted a smart upswing of 22% over the last six months. The Adanis to their credit have not acted in haste and have followed due process. Also, Mr. Gautam Adani is still the 23rd richest in the world!

The Adani group has interests in ports, airports, power, mining, FMCG, cement, oil & gas and food processing. Some of these are extremely strategic for India’s growth and the talent to execute large and complex projects is uncommon. Take ports for example. From Mundra to Vizhinjam to Haifa, it provides Indian control of the global supply chain. This harks back to our old sea-faring civilization that traded like total bosses!

When India is projected to become the third largest economy in the world by the end of the decade, this expertise will be key to national security and trade security. Maybe that is why the attacks on the Adani group have been vicious and persistent.

Along with the strength and recognition that comes with being a rising power, India will have to brace up to face great enemies too. Some will attack directly, some stealthily, some with our internal malcontents. That has always been the way of the world. And we as a country have “been there, done that”. We are wiser through our lessons from history and should phlegmatically surmount the odds.

We should be cognizant that such foreign propaganda is aimed at undermining trust in our democratic institutions. By spreading false or misleading information, these foreign actors sow doubt in the minds of businesses. Such attacks also tend to slow down political decision-making. But confident and resurgent India’s perception of “capital” is unlike the socialist “rich villain” era. New India’s aspiration and nationalism are also among the reasons why the allegations on the Adani Group did not stick with the public.

We should trust our institutions to safeguard us from such attacks. We should also constantly endeavour to strengthen our systems to face up to the new era of increased foreign interference. We should continue to take the side of the flourishing of Indian business that is quintessential to our economic heft and geo-political clout. As recent events have proved that we are resilient enough to make the obstacle, the path.

(Banuchandar Nagarajan is an Independent Columnist and Public Policy Expert and holds a Master's degree from Harvard University; views are personal)

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