This government not just intolerant, but vengeful, says veteran journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

In an interview with South First, the veteran journalist and author talks about his meetings with Gautam Adani and challenges he faces under Narendra Modi government.

BySreerag PS

Published Feb 23, 2023 | 10:00 AMUpdatedFeb 23, 2023 | 10:00 AM

This government not just intolerant, but vengeful, says veteran journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta has been writing about Adani group of companies since 2015. In 2020, an Ahmedabad court issued a gag order on him preventing him not only from writing about Adani Group, but also from writing or speaking anything against Gautam Adani or the companies affiliated to him.

Guha Thakurta, who was at the Kerala Sahitya Academy, Thrissur, for the release of the Malayalam book Adani Samrajyam (Adani Empire) edited by K Sahadevan and published by Red Ink Books, spoke to South First about the Hindenburg report, his own run-ins with corporate conglomerates, and the country’s crumbling of institutions. He also spoke of the state of journalism in the country, being tracked by Pegasus, and how the Narendra Modi government is not just intolerant, but downright vengeful when it comes to its critics, be it in the media or in the Opposition. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Q: You are the only journalist mentioned in the Hindenburg Research report on the Adani group. What is your association with Hindenburg Research?

A. The fact is, I had not heard about Hindenburg Research until the 24th of January.

After I read the report, 32,000 words of it, I realised there were several references to articles that have been written, or co-authored, by me, and published in various media outlets. Including the articles published in Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), The Wire, News Click, The Caravan and These are all in the public domain. There were several references made to a number of show cause notices issued by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI)… these are documents which I put up on a website called They have been there for five years.

I think it’s an important report. The Adani group has given a long response to it. Hindenburg has challenged Adani’s conglomerate to sue them in the US. And we don’t know whether that will happen or not. As far as I know, the process of applying before a court in the US has not yet begun. I’m just going by what I’ve read in the media. So, let us see what happens.

Q: Do you think bodies like DRI and SEBI deal differently with corporate groups like Adani?

A. I can’t comment on that. But the allegations in the Hindenburg report are public. It is up to the government’s law enforcement agencies like the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the CBI to find out whether there is any illegalities, or any criminal intent behind those illegalities. As far as the Securities and Exchange Board India (SEBI) is concerned, several reports have appeared about these foreign portfolio investors that are located in tax heavens like Mauritius that allegedly violated SEBI’s own rules. If it is true then it is up to SEBI to investigate.

All the law enforcing agencies are very, very quick when it comes to initiating action against those who are either aligned with the Opposition or who are critics of the government. Look at what happened to the BBC. The way bodies like ED, CBI and others have been weaponised is not something we have not seen before. They always were partisan and under pressure from the political establishment, but the level to which these agencies are acting in a partisan manner [is new]. The media too. The media’s job is to hold those in positions of power and authority accountable. Now, a large section of the so-called mainstream media in India is too busy attacking the Opposition and not asking questions to the ruling party. This is true of the media, this is true also for law enforcement agents.

Q: You say you have met Gautham Adani. What were the meetings about? 

A. I first met Gautam Adani in May 2017 in Mumbai. We drove in his car from one end of the Bandra Worli sea link to Nariman point. The person who had lined up the appointment said I could meet Adani on one condition — that everything is off the record.

The second time I met him was in February 2021. It was a meeting that was organised by my lawyer. There were five of us, and the meeting lasted, almost two hours. I was sworn to secrecy. Everything discussed was off the record. The third time, I spoke with him very recently, over the phone, on a WhatsApp call. I requested him to withdraw all six pending cases against me. He was non-committal.

Q: In 2017, the EPW’s owners, the Sameeksha Trust had said in their statement that you had committed “grave impropriety” and alleged that you started legal proceedings to a show cause notice by the Adani Group on behalf of the trust without taking prior permission.

A. I said I was willing to apologise for engaging the services of a lawyer pro bono to respond to a legal notice. But I do not consider it to be an act of grave impropriety. I consider it to be a technical error and I still stand by my view.

I was told to stop writing, because my predecessors hadn’t written under their own byline. I was told that I had destroyed the ethos of the magazine. They told me I can’t leave the room until the article is pulled down. The article was pulled down and I then asked for a piece of paper and resigned. I don’t think any self-respecting individual could have continued.

I was surprised and overwhelmed by the support I got from hundreds of people. Two Nobel laureates, professor Amartya Sen, professor Angus Deaton, renowned scholar professor Noam Chomsky, and the former finance minister of West Bengal, Dr Ashok Mitra, all supported me.

After the article was taken down from EPW soon after that, it was published in The Wire.

Q: As an investigative journalist, what are the major challenges that you face under the present government?

A. Journalists across the world are facing several challenges. They are under threat and being killed across the world. It is not only in India. It is happening in Mexico, Hungary, different parts of the world. Journalism has become a risky profession across the world.

For 45 years I have been a journalist. Whoever is in power is never tolerant towards their critics, whether it is the Opposition or journalists, who ask tough questions. They are never tolerant.

The difference I believe now is that this government is not just intolerant. They are vengeful. Law enforcement agencies are misused and have been converted into weapons to target the opponents of the government.

Q: Do you find it difficult to have access to the information under the current regime?

A. Yes. They spy on my phone using military grade surveillance systems like Pegasus. So they are listening to you and listening to me. The whole idea of spying and listening in to other people’s conversations is not only to tell you that they’re listening, but also to check who my sources are.

My phone was forensically examined five times, including three times in Canada, once each in Kolkata and Delhi. Those who engaged the services of the forensic laboratory to examine my phone, asked me what I was working on.

They have evidence that my phone was compromised. This was in March, April and May of 2018. In May 2018, I wrote an article titled ‘Carving up a business empire through tax havens: The Ambani way’. It appeared in the news portal News Click. It talks about how the foreign assets of the late Dhirubhai Ambani had moved across various jurisdictions, including tax havens.

When they spy on me when they listen to my conversation. They want to know who my sources are. They want to know who leaked information to me about the Ambanis.

Never before, and certainly not now, has it been easy for whistleblowers. We have a law in this country to protect whistleblowers. It has been passed by both Houses of Parliament. Several years have gone by but the rules haven’t been framed. The law has been diluted.

This government doesn’t want transparency in public life. Those in power don’t want to be asked difficult questions or to be held accountable. So that their discretionary powers are not questioned.

The interview has been edited and condensed.