By P.T. Bopanna
When India Today’s Raj Chengappa (in picture) managed to get an exclusive interview with Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani in December, Chengappa must have thought it was sort of a journalistic coup.
Chengappa, editorial director (publishing), India Today Group, never imagined that the wily Adani, who is media shy for obvious reasons, had planned to use the interview to give a ‘clean chit’ to himself in the run up to the Rs 20,000 crore (now aborted) follow-on public offer (FPO) of Adani Enterprises.
In hindsight, it is apparent that Adani had given the interview to Chengappa, because he does not have the reputation for asking probing questions, unlike journalists like Karan Thapar or Sreenivasan Jain. In fairness, it should be said Chengappa asked all the relevant questions, though the questions were never penetrating or probing, as the body language suggested.
It was an open secret that Adani was engaged in shady business deals as pointed out recently by the Hindenburg Research report, which termed Adani as ‘largest con in corporate history’. The report alleged that the conglomerate was involved in stock manipulation, accounting fraud, used offshore shells for money laundering and siphoned money from listed companies.
Prior to the interview, Chengappa should have gone through the background of Adani meticulously. CreditSights, part of the Fitch Group, had described the Adani group last September as “overleveraged” and said it had concerns over its debt.
The most damaging aspect of Adani’s manipulation was how he managed to get Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) as the single largest non-promoter domestic shareholder in five of the biggest Adani Group companies which cumulatively held 37% stake in the listed entities of Adani Group. LIC’s dangerous exposure to Adani companies was scary because the funds belonged to millions of middleclass policy-holders.
Indian journalists should emulate journalists working for the BBC in London. For instance, Tim Sebastian, who used to interview world leaders for BBC, used to engage in collecting extensive background material before the interview as the presenter of HARDtalk.
The then deputy prime minister L.K. Advani, who is known for being media-savvy, declined to be interviewed by Sebastian, knowing full well how he would be grilled.
The present Modi government has banned the BBC documentary “India: The Modi Question,” by accusing the broadcaster of having a “colonial mindset.”
During Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, BBC was the only credible source of news, so much so its correspondent Mark Tully was thrown out of India and the BBC office was closed down.
Unlike BBC, the Indian media crumbled during the Emergency. In the words of Advani, Indian media were asked to only bend, but “they crawled.”
In the circumstances, the Indian news anchors should do their homework properly before interviewing, especially wheeler-dealers like Adani.