New Orleans – It’s hard to really get very excited about the machinations of financiers, Wall Street, and the mega-billionaire gang around the world, but an exception has to be made about the current takedown of the Adani Group and its founder and boss, perhaps the richest man in the world, at least he was a couple of weeks ago. His Musk-like loss of almost $40 billion in this chaotic affair won’t have him standing on the street begging for rupees, but does perhaps give a better chance at a fair deal in the Dharavi, the Mumbai, megaslum, where ACORN organizes and has many members and projects.
There are two stories here whose confluence impacts Dharavi and could force a better deal for residents in the redevelopment. The first is the report by Hindenberg Research. The second is the exposure it finally gives to crony capitalism in India, which factored heavily in the sweetheart contract to the Adani Group to redevelop Dharavi and fatten its own coffers.
Hindenberg specializes in shorting stock, meaning that they do research about the flaws in a company and bet that the share price will go down, at which point they bank huge profits. On the eve of a $2.5 billion stock sale by the giant Adani conglomerate, they released a report that essentially accused Adani of a bunch tricks to boost its returns and puff up its stock. Investors have run for cover and sold the Adani stock by the bushel, dropping its share price, triggering investigations, and knocking a hole in Adani’s personal fortune. This is an ongoing run. Indian investors bailed Adani out and bought up the $2.5 billion, and ACORN India’s organizers informed me that Indian government is spinning all of this Adani controversy as not a financial malfeasance and a corporate accounting scandal, but an attack on the very country and its global ambitions.
All of which brings us to the second leg of this story which is crony capitalism and its impact on Dharavi. Quiet allegations have circulated in India for years about the cozy relationship between Gautam Adani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both men’s careers began in the state of Gujarat. Modi flew to his inauguration on an Adani plane. Adani denies any claims of preferential treatment, but in India few find any credibility to the pro forma denials, since the arc of Adani’s wealth and the policies and infrastructure contracts received by his companies since Modi gained power in 2014 are so closely aligned.
Nowhere is this truer than in the long fight over development in Dharavi, since the huge slum is located in the center of Mumbai and therefore long seen as prime development acreage for malls, condos, and luxury skyscrapers. Dharavi is more than just a housing area since it is so closely connected to the livelihood of the residents. Even Charles III, now King of England, has touted Dharavi as a model area because of that synergy. ACORN in coalition with many other groups has fought the redevelopment and, when facing its inevitability, has pushed with allies for modifications and improvements, which have stalled the work for years. Adani lost on a bid several years ago, but somehow came up the winner in a recent bid. No one in Dharavi liked the terms, especially the fact that the relocation scheme to 300 to 350 square foot housing units was limited to only occupants of Dharavi who had lived there before 2001, more than twenty years ago. Nonetheless, because of a virtual gift of acres from the Railway Authority and the split between the city and Adani, the company stood to make unimaginable profits.
Mumbai is located in the state of Maharashtra. No matter the message from Modi and the Delhi national government, the Maharashtra Congress has now asked the state government to take back the Dharavi redevelopment project from the Adani group. The legislature has been controlled by the BJP since 2022, so this is another sign of how far Adani’s star has fallen and how much hope is rising for a better, and fairer, deal for Dharavi’s families and workers.