NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s top opposition leader Rahul Gandhi on Saturday launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said he was being targeted because he has raised serious questions about Modi's relationship with the Indian business conglomerate Adani Group.
Gandhi said the objective of his expulsion from Parliament on Friday was to prevent him from speaking in the legislature about his allegation of an infusion of an unaccounted $3 billion into shell companies owned by the Adani Group, headed by Gautam Adani.
’’Some of these defense companies are working in drone and missile development and ordnance production. Why is the defense ministry not asking 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 assaults against democracy and free speech by a ruling government seeking to crush dissent. Removing Gandhi from politics delivered a major blow to the opposition party he led ahead of next year’s national elections.
Gandhi said he was not bothered about losing his seat in Parliament. "My job is to defend the institutions of the country and the voice of people," he added.
A court in the western Indian city of Surat also sentenced him to two years in prison on Thursday. But he won’t go to jail immediately as the court granted bail for 30 days to file an appeal against the verdict.
The court convicted Gandhi for a 2019 speech in which he asked, “Why do all thieves have Modi as their surname?” Gandhi then referred to three well-known and unrelated Modis in the speech: a fugitive Indian diamond tycoon, a cricket executive banned from the Indian Premier League tournament and the prime minister.
On Saturday, Gandhi didn't indicate how soon his legal team will approach an appeals court seeking to overturn his conviction so he could save his seat in Parliament.
He accused Modi of helping the Adani Group to get contracts in India, Sri Lanka, and Australia.
He also alleged that a Chinese national was involved in investments in Adani's shell companies. “Why nobody is asking the question who this Chinese national is,” he said. ”Nobody knows where this money has come from. Adani couldn't generate this money."
Gandhi has demanded a parliamentary committee probe following a report by Hindenburg Research, the U.S. financial research firm, accusing the Adani Group of stock price manipulation and fraud running into billions of dollars. The Adani Group has denied any wrongdoing and the Modi government has not accepted a call for a parliamentary investigation.
Soon after Gandhi's news conference, Ravi Shankar Prasad, a top leader of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, rejected Gandhi's accusations and said 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 shot up 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 surge in the value of his seven listed entities.
Adani’s businesses have won multibillion-dollar contracts to build ports, highways and power plants. The industrialist’s ambitions include developing drones and ammunition, key to the government’s goal of boosting military-related exports to $5 billion while slashing costs for expensive imports.