The way billionaire infrastructure-builder Gautam Adani sees it, working with the government does not make him a crony-capitalist.
Adani’s rapid ascent to the top tier of Indian business is often associated with the rise of Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist opposition leader widely expected to become India’s next prime minister once the country’s election ends next month.
Critics dislike Modi’s authoritarian tendencies and attitude towards religious minorities, most notably Muslims, while big businesses admire the chief minister of Gujarat’s ability to get things done.
Based in the western state, Adani’s empire has benefitted from Modi’s emphasis on economic development, but the tycoon bristles at the notion that he has been granted undue favours.
“Crony capitalism should not be there. I definitely agree with that. But how you define crony capitalism is another issue,” Adani, 52, said in a recent interview in his office in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s commercial capital.
“If you are, basically, working closely with the government, that doesn’t mean it’s crony capitalism,” said Adani, whose companies have built a chunk of the infrastructure that has helped make Gujarat an industrial powerhouse.
Shares in Adani firms have surged on what traders say are bets the group would perform well under a Modi-led government.
Its flagship Adani Enterprises soared 22.9% for its biggest daily gain on Thursday and has nearly doubled since the start of February, compared with a nearly 20% gain in the infrastructure index.
Cosy ties between business and politics are a key issue in Indian elections that began on Monday after a spate of scandals weakened the Congress party government, paralysed decision-making and stifled investment.
Popular anger over corruption fuelled the rise of the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party, which rails against what it says is rampant crony capitalism in India.
With speedy bureaucracy and 24-hour power in a country notorious for red tape and blackouts, Gujarat is a magnet for investment as well as criticism that the playing field is tilted too much in favour of industrialists like Adani.
“These improvements in infrastructure and governance are mainly for the corporate sector,” said Indira Hirway, director of the Center for Development Alternatives in Ahmedabad.
“For other sectors, for the masses, and particularly for the poor, the infrastructure is not doing that well,” she said, referring to issues such as drinking water, sanitation, and social infrastructure.
A college dropout and self-made entrepreneur in a country where industrial wealth is often inherited, Adani has built a power, mining and ports giant with