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Newsmaker: Gautam Adani

Adani and his act of loyalty

Rutam Vora & Vinay Umarji  |  Ahemdabad 

Amidst the controversy over the cancellation of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's keynote address at Wharton India Economic Forum 2013, one man who finds himself in news yet again is Ahmedabad-based billionaire Gautam Adani.

Citing other "pressing commitments", Adani had conveyed his inability to participate in the event at Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, much before Modi was dropped as the keynote speaker. Following the controversy, the Adani Group also withdrew its Platinum Sponsorship for the event. The move is being viewed as a gesture of loyalty to Modi.

“Since there’s self interest involved — in expecting Modi to become prime minister — Adani would have decided to give the platinum sponsorship to the event. But after the entire issue cropped up, he shamelessly withdrew it," says Shaktisinh Gohil, former opposition leader in the Gujarat assembly. Gohil had lost his seat in the December 2012 assembly polls.

Adani, the first-generation entrepreneur from Ahmedabad who heads the $8-billion empire, enjoys proximity to powerful politicians across party lines. This was evident from the presence of political heavyweights at his son, Karan's, extravagant wedding in Goa and the grand reception in Ahmedabad last month. While Modi was present at both the wedding and the reception, Bharatiya Janata Party veterans L K Advani and Nitin Gadkari, Nationalist Congress Party leaders and union ministers Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel as well as Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray attended the wedding.

According to Election Commission of India, the Adanis are among the biggest corporate donors to BJP. The self-made billionaire's rise from a modest trader to a business tycoon in a relatively short span of time has, however, not gone unnoticed or unquestioned. The Adani Group has often come under attack from the opposition Congress in Gujarat which has accused it of receiving huge tracts of land from the Modi government at throwaway prices. In March 2010, the opposition party in the state also demanded that Adani Power be blacklisted for terminating the 1,000-MW power purchase agreement with the state power firm, Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam.

It is in the last 10 years mainly that Adani has shot to such heights. It was during this period that Adani Enterprises — the flagship company of Adani Group — expanded its port and SEZ business by setting up two listed companies: Adani Ports and SEZ Limited (APSEZ) and Adani Power Limited. APSEZ is currently the largest private sector port operator.

In November 2009, Forbes had placed Adani Enterprises among the 50 top performing Asian and Adani was listed India's 10th richest person. However, unlike his political affiliations which continue to flourish, Adani's businesses, particularly the overseas ports operations and power generation, have faced hurdles.

His business got a boost in August 2010, when the Adani Group acquired coal assets of the Australia-based Linc Energy's Galilee tenement for $2.7 billion (about Rs 12,600 crore) in a cash and royalty deal. It is also exploring partners to help fund a $2 billion (about Rs 10,800 crore) coal rail line from Australia's Galilee Basin to the Pacific Ocean.

In October 2011, the group also acquired the Abbot Point Coal Terminal in Queensland in northeast Australia for a consideration of about $2 billion, most of which was through debt. This put the Adani Group in the distinct league of Indian multinationals.

However, the acquisition turned less profitable with huge debt burden prompting Adani to divest from Abbot Point to the promoter family in January this year. The ambitious power business has also been in trouble. Dependence on costly imported coal has strained the financial condition of Adani Power which posted its fifth straight quarterly net loss of Rs 507 crore for the December quarter.

But his fortunes might turn yet. Industry insiders see Adani's position getting consolidated further if Modi becomes the prime minister of India.

First Published: Thu, March 07 2013. 23:27 IST
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