Modi Alleges Without Evidence Adani, Ambani Gave Illegal Cash

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi made unsubstantiated allegations that India’s main opposition party received illegal cash from billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani, escalating his rhetoric in the middle of a heated election battle.

Modi made the claims at a rally in southern Telangana state Wednesday, hinting that Rahul Gandhi, a senior leader in the Indian National Congress, had stopped criticizing Adani and Ambani in his speeches because his party is receiving money from them. Modi didn’t provide any evidence to back up the allegation.

“For five years you cussed out Ambani and Adani, and overnight the cussing has stopped?” Modi told the crowd in Hindi, without mentioning Gandhi by name.

Congress party officials said Modi’s comments suggest he may be concerned about the voting trend for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party so far and is turning against his allies.

Both Ambani and Adani have widespread business interests in the country that align with the government’s policy agenda. Gandhi has consistently questioned Modi’s links with the tycoons and criticized policies he says have favored wealthy businessmen over the poor, resulting in widening inequality levels in the country. At a campaign rally on Tuesday in Jharkhand, Gandhi said the media’s attention is focused on Ambani, Adani and Modi, but not the poor.

The prime minister, who is seeking a third term in elections that run until June 1, rarely mentions the billionaires names in his speeches. On Wednesday, he alleged they had been funding Gandhi and the Congress party since the elections began on April 19.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge said on social media platform X that Modi is “shaking” and “attacking his own friends.” Jairam Ramesh, the party’s national spokesman, said the billionaires have benefited from Modi’s policies and the opposition will continue to push for investigations into the prime minister’s links to the businessmen.

Representatives for Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd. and Adani Group weren’t available to comment when contacted by Bloomberg News.

Neelanjan Sircar, a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, a policy think tank, said Modi may be trying to deflect attention from his links to the wealthy businessmen and what they represent in a country of wide income disparities.

“Part of the reason is to muddy the waters and to try to delink the public perception of the BJP and Modi from the public imagination of what Adani and Ambani do,” he said. “They represent extreme inequality. They flaunt their wealth.”

Election funding in India is notoriously opaque. Only a small percentage is declared publicly, according to election watchdogs, with the vast amount unaccounted for and labeled black money. In April, the Election Commission of India said it confiscated 46.5 billion rupees ($557 million) of illicit money and goods in the run up to voting.

Modi’s comments come a day after India held the third phase of its seven-phase elections. The prime minister and BJP officials have ramped up attacks on the opposition that have drawn condemnation for being discriminatory. At a rally last month, Modi told supporters that if voted to power, the Congress party would redistribute wealth to Muslims and “infiltrators.”

This week, the BJP in Karnataka province posted an animated video that showed the Congress party favoring Muslims over other minority groups. The Election Commission of India on Tuesday ordered social media platform X to remove the video.

Apoorvanand, a professor at the University of Delhi who goes by one name and writes regularly on politics, said Modi’s comments suggest he’s trying to “confuse the electors, muddy the waters so that voters cannot think clearly.”

--With assistance from P R Sanjai.

(Updates with comments from Congress leader and analysts.)

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