First edition of Nazariya Magazine, themed “Imperialism: In and Out” released on 18th March, 2023 in the form of a physical magazine. Contact us for your copy!

Imperialism in the Air: Political Economy of Airports in India

Airports and the ability to fly have always been considered one of the hallmark emblems of so-called development. In the current regime’s bid to march towards what is being branded as ‘New India’, the airport policy requires a key scrutiny in the direction where this supposed development is rapidly taking place. Of particular interest should be airports in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Guwahati, Thiruvananthapuram, Mangaluru, all run by subsidiaries of Adani Group as well as the Noida International Airport in Jewar, which is going to be India’s largest airport when completed. The pertinent questions surrounding such development is how the intensification of the Indian state’s focus on the public-private partnership (PPP) model has led to bureaucratic capitalism led by the comprador big bourgeoisie at the service of foreign finance capital. The weight of these projects are borne by the peasantry who are displaced off their lands to make space for capital to propagate itself. Imperialism develops and envelops transportation as an industry, molding them towards its interests of ease of transporting labour and goods at a faster pace and thus, an evaluation of who this ‘development’ is for must also be undertaken.

PPP Model and Bureaucratic Capitalism

After the assault of liberalization-globalization-privatization began on the Indian economy in the 90s, the multiple waves of neoliberal reforms have seen changes in the role the Indian state plays, with public sector undertakings taking a backseat in favour of privatized undertakings of activities which would previously be only the direct business of the state. Metros, railways, providing electricity and now airports are examples of such enterprises. This shift in ideology is reflected in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words,

“There are several loss-making public sector enterprises. Many of them have to be supported through tax payers’ money. In a way, the money, which is the rightful due of the poor and the youth bubbling with aspirations, has to be put into the activities of these enterprises and as a result it puts a lot of burden on the economy also. The public sector enterprises don’t have to be run just because they have been there for several years and were someone’s pet projects….. It is the responsibility of the government to give full support to the enterprises and businesses of the country, but it is not necessary and feasible in today’s era that the government should run the enterprises and continue to own it. Therefore, I say the government has no business to be in business.”1

He cements the clarity of this shift by saying,

“When the government monetizes a particular asset, it is replaced by the private sector of the country. The private sector brings in investment as well as the best global practices. It brings in top quality manpower and transforms the management. It further modernizes things and the entire sector is modernized. It also leads to rapid expansion of that sector and creates new job opportunities also. Monitoring is equally important so that the entire process remains transparent and according to the rules.  That is, we can further increase the efficiency of the entire economy through monetizing and modernizing.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi lounging with Gautam Adani, chairman and founder of Adani Group

Very clearly, Modi has laid out the agenda that the bureaucracy itself is not going to be undertaking business ventures directly but will instead take the assistance of the big bourgeoisie for the sake of bringing in foreign investment as well as importing technological assistance from foreign monopoly capitalists. Bureaucratic capitalism, that is, capitalist exploitation that is driven directly by the state bureaucracy in close alliance with the comprador big bourgeoisie, at the service of imperial interests, has only undergone a quantitative change in its character. In fact, in many pockets such as Kashmir, Asom or Manipur where Indian expansionism aims to combat national liberation struggles, majorly state-owned enterprises like the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Limited (NHPC) still follow a version of the older bureaucratic capitalist model while bringing in foreign finance capital through collaborations with Larsen & Toubro, Samsung C & T Corporation and the World Bank in its various projects which have caused mass ecological damage as well as heightened displacement of locals.

Other examples of the PPP Model is the Delhi Airport Metro project, particularly the Orange Line which connects the Delhi metro system directly to the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, wherein the state-run Delhi Metro Rail Corporation bore the majority of the financial burden of the Rs. 5700 crore in the project while the comprador Reliance Infrastructure Ltd., along with a nexus of international rail construction corporations and consortium of banks brought in foreign finance capital and technological know-how into the project.2 The state would displace hundreds of people to make way for the project, which would eventually be subservient to the interests of comprador bourgeoisie and foreign finance capital. Throughout the project, Reliance bore practically no cost of the project and the state performed all aspects of the financial and bureaucratic tasks while reliance dictated the terms of the project and only served to become an intermediary between the state and foreign capital.

Delhi Airport Metro train, colloquially called the Orange Line

In essence, the bureaucracy continues to enjoy its nexus with this section of the bourgeoisie and continue to perform their role of creating space for imperial capital but have given away some aspects of direct management over to the comprador bourgeoisie, thus reflective of what is a quantitative but not a qualitative shift in bureaucratic capitalism that is undertaken through this PPP model. In light of this, come in these airport projects, which are run on this very model.

Role of the State As the Lackey to Imperial Interests

The government has leased out seven airports, in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Guwahati, Thiruvananthapuram, Lucknow and Mangaluru, to Adani Airport Holdings Ltd., a subsidiary of the Adani Group. These airports see more than 50% of the domestic air movement in India and are thus the most strategic airports in India.3 It is important to note two facets of Adani Group, first, the role played by the state in providing Adani these ventures and second, how Adani derives capital.

Taking the particular example of Lucknow’s Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport, Adani has introduced a plan of investing 1.2 billion USD into the project and has stated that they require a land expansion of the airport by more than 460 hectares to increase the airport’s capacity as well increase its cargo holding and transporting capacity by 0.25 million tonnes per annum, nearly doubling the size and holding of the airport.4 This task will be undertaken by the Indian state, which not just uses its legal powers to wrest land out of the hands of people but also provides the airport with nearly 5 million litres of water per day for its functioning.

The state also provided the lease of these airports to Adani by breaking both its own laws as well as at significantly lesser valuations. The lease, which should not exceed more than 30 years under the Airports Authority of India Act, is for 50 years, directly contravening the act. Further, when the bidding process for the airports took place, the winning bidder had to pay Rs. 1330 crore for the airports while Adani only paid Rs. 500 crore, only 37% of the original valuation of the state’s own assets!5 The nexus between the state and capital is apparent here where the state is readily taking financial losses for the sake of propagating bourgeois interests.

In Jewar, the Noida International Airport has undergone a similar process. The lease for the airport has been granted to Yamuna International Airports Private Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Zurich Airport International AG, or Flughafen Zurich AG. The Swiss corporation holds the lease for 40 years and has a track record of taking over airport projects in the underdeveloped countries, with Flughafen Zurich AG running airports in Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Curaçao, Venezuela and Brazil.6 Here once again, the state uses its bureaucratic powers to assist imperial interests. Farmers from six villages from where the government is planning on acquiring land for the expansion of the Jewar airport in Noida have started protesting against the government due to unfair compensation of the land that was wrested away from them. The government strategically changed the category of this area into an urban area from a rural area, where the compensation for the land is four times the existing circle rates. The people who are displaced were promised fair rehabilitation to the village of Jewar Bangar, where electricity, water or even roadways do not exist, forcing rehabilitated farmers to walk 20-30 kilometres to travel outside the village.7 Seeing the plight of the farmers who were displaced in the first phase of the project, the farmers whose land the state has put in its sight for phase 2, a 1185 hectare expansion, have rejected the selling of their land and are resisting state coercion.

A worker sets a dummy aeroplane model at a ceremony held to start work on the Noida International Airport, Jewar, under the ignorant eye of Modi

In Thirvunanthapuram, workers protests forced the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation to join in on the bidding process as the workers did not want the privatization of the airports. The KSIDC was promised that their bid would be accepted if they even fall under 10% of the top bid but extra economic coercion was in place, as KSIDC’s bid was overseen by the law firm Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (CAM), one of CAM’s key partner being Paridhi Adani, Gautam Adani’s daughter-in-law.8 The firm’s ties with Adani Group’s chairperson are evident. The Kerala government itself is a questionable mediator in the process as it has openly collaborated with Brahmanical Hindutva fascist BJP to defend Adani’s Vizhinjam port project against which another mass movement is going on in Kerala.

Adani Group is also planning to build “aero cities” around all its airports. 70 million square feet across 500 acres of land in all of these airports will be utilised for this.9 The airports are therefore going to create space for further expansion of capital, with international hotel chains like Marriott International, Hilton and the Intercontinental Hotels likely to occupy prominent positions in the aero cities by way of Adani. The state is therefore going to provide further land to Adani, displace a further section of people to ‘develop’ areas to which the people who are being displaced will have no access to.

This exposes the deep entrenchment of the bureaucratic framework with comprador bourgeoisie, with the bureaucracy directly working as the lackey of imperial capital.

Foreign Finance Capital Behind Adani

Adani Airport Holdings Ltd. is a new company, formed in 2019 only and having never undertaken any work related to airports prior to them winning 7 bids for the most strategic airports in India. When categorizing Adani as part of the comprador big bourgeoisie, it should be clearly noted that Adani is deeply reliant on foreign finance capital for its functioning. Lenin describes the key features of foreign finance capital,

“the concentration of production; the monopolies arising therefrom; the merging or coalescence of the banks with industry—such is the history of the rise of finance capital and such is the content of that concept.”10

Adani’s collaboration and reliance on foreign finance capital is clear in various instances. Adani’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport Mumbai saw a massive investment of 750 million USD from American financier Apollo Global Management11 which has already directly pushed nearly 2 billion USD in the last two years to land ‘developers.’12 For the infrastructure development in the aero cities, Adani Airports Holdings Ltd. raised $250 million from international Barclays Bank and Standard Chartered Bank. The company has the option to raise another $200 million as part of this deal. The foreign partners of Adani Group for these airport projects include Bidvest and Airport Company of South Africa (ACSA). 74% of ACSA is owned by the settler South African state and the majority of the remaining shares are owned by three banks, Standard Bank, Nedbank and Rand Merchant Bank,13 all of whom have historical ties with white settler colonialism in South Africa and currently function in providing foreign finance capital from Europe and America. Similarly, the shareholders of Bidvest include The Vanguard Group, an American registered investment management firm, and international financial giants Blackrock Advisors, a UK based firm.14 These banking and financial firms, which directly propagate foreign finance capital at the service of monopoly capitalists who are behind these banks. are therefore capable of dictating the direction in which basic level of ‘developmental’ work is done, to further their interests. Airports merely function as one aspect of this imperialist model of development, acting in tandem with all other ‘development’ occurring in the region, be it ports, buildings, dams, bridges or other land-based development, which are all controlled and dictated on the whims and fancies of foreign capital.

Representatives of Flughafen Zurich AG explain the plans of Noida International Airport to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and other Indian representatives

Adani Group’s reliance on foreign finance capital is further exposed with its debt of Rs. 2.31 trillion.15 The group’s rapid expansion has been fueled by massive government assistance, as mentioned above, as well as a steady stream of finance capital that has allowed Adani to expand its foothold in all major industries across India, crushing smaller ventures out of their path by way of this nexus between bureaucracy, foreign finance capital and the comprador big bourgeoisie.

It should be clearly noted that this nexus is not an alliance of equal partners, but one where the interests of foreign monopoly capitalists dominate over the other two. The unequal exchange between advanced capitalist countries and the underdeveloped world is driven in favour of the monopoly capitalists in the advanced countries, who hold a disproportionate amount of investments within the underdeveloped world which is not true in reverse. For example, in 2019, India’s foreign liabilities (domestic resources owned by foreign parties) amounted to 40% of its entire GDP. When this is the case, the economy can enter into a crisis any time even a part of this investment is taken back, with the rupee plummeting. This occurred extensively during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such removal of capital is deeply informed by credit ratings bodies, which rate which countries and companies would be good investments for foreign monopoly capitalists. Lowering of credit ratings or even poor reports from credit rating companies can lead to investments being taken back and can cause an economic collapse. Top credit rating companies Fitch and Standard & Poor rated India at the second last spot, marking India out to not be a favourable country for investment during the pandemic which saw the exacerbation of the economic crisis.16 The ideology of India as subservient to the interests of this foreign capital is clearly laid out by former Reserve Bank of India governor, Urjit Patel, during the COVID-19 pandemic,

“If the fiscal and monetary responses are overdone, the likelihood of non-trivial consequences for macroeconomic stability increases. . . . Foreign portfolio investment in Indian equity and bonds is about US$ 300 billion. US$ 15 billion exited last month, and that is not a surprise. . . . Our macroeconomic management should not be the driver to spook investors.”17

In light of this, Adani’s compliance with foreign interests becomes apparent given that one of Adani Group’s companies is soon to be rated higher than the credit rating of India as a country itself!18

International Airports –  Foreign Interests

Airport Authority of India workers’ unions engage in strike against corporatization of Indian airports

With the intensification of this PPP model and the push towards the leadership of the comprador bourgeoisie in leading the work on the airports, the concern should be asked regarding who this development is for. It comes at the diktats issued by foreign finance capital and causes massive destruction of human and ecological lives within India. Both the workers of airports and the farmers who are losing their lands are experiencing deprivation through these projects and rising in protests against them. Once again, these classes of people find themselves at loggerheads with imperialist ‘development’, as seen in Joshimath where the local goat-herding communities were initially opposed to imperialist development in the mountainous region, as more and more grass-land would fall to dams, tunnelling and other projects undertaken there. Now, the whole city faces a massive ecological crisis as all nine of its municipal wards have been labelled land-slide subsidence zones as cracks have started to appear in roads and houses all over the city. The workers and peasants have continuously been at the forefront of struggle and raising alarm bells against imperialist plunder.

The national bourgeoisie, that is those among the petty bourgeois class who have aspirations of becoming big capitalists with a nationalist or patriotic outlook, consistently find both their national interests curbed and are losing out to comprador bourgeoisie when it comes winning leases for these airport projects. Their class interests and aspirations are in contradiction with the current ruling class who continuously crush their independent small business ventures to push them out of their class positions. This section’s interests thus align with those of the workers and peasantry, who face the most exploitation and oppression under this imperialist model.

For a country claiming to be independent and a sovereign, Indian ruling classes serve foreign interests as lackeys and their undertakings are a reflection of the need for New Democratic revolution, which can be the only way that these pimps of imperialism can be ousted and the needs of the various exploited and oppressed classes mentioned previously can realize their interests.

by Shri Rishi

and Mukundan, students of law at Jindal Global Law School


  1. “ English Rendering of PM’s Address at the Webinar on Privatisation and Asset Monetisation.” Press Information Bureau, February 24, 2021. Press Information Bureau.
  2. Varman, Rahul. “Public Private Partnerships – Subsidy and Impunity for Private Corporations.” Research Unit for Political Economy (blog), January 3, 2022.
  3. ET Now Digital. “Adani Airports Raises $250 Million to Develop 6 Airports; Optionality to Raise Additional $200 Million.” Times Now News, May 9, 2022.
  4. Patel, Deepak. “ Adani Group to Invest Rs 10,700 Crore to Expand Lucknow Airport .” Business Standard, December 18, 2022.
  5. Suresh, Haripriya. “Adani Paid Rs 74.5 Cr for Mangaluru Airport Assets Valued at Rs 363 Cr, Says AAI Union.” The News Minute, October 7, 2017.
  6. Kundu, Rhik. “Zurich Airport Signs Shareholder Agreement for Jewar Airport Development.” Mint, July 17, 2021. Suresh, Haripriya.
  7. Press Trust of India. “Noida Airport: Hundreds of Impacted Villagers Protest in Greater Noida.” The Print, November 7, 2022.
  8. TNN. “Firm with Adani Link Aided Kerala Govt in Airport Bid.” Times of India, August 23, 2020.
  9. ET Now Digital. “Adani Group Plans to Build Aero Cities near Its Airports.” Times Now News, July 15, 2022.
  10. Lenin. Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, n.d.
  11. Parmar, Beena. “Apollo Global Makes $750 Mn Debt Investment in Adani-Owned Mumbai Airport.” VCCircle, May 4, 2022.
  12. “Mumbai International Airport Ltd: Adani Group Completes Bidvest, ACSA Stake Buy.” The Business Line, February 6, 2021.
  15. Press Trust of India. “ Adani Group Is ‘Deeply Overleveraged’, Warns CreditSights .” The Business Line, August 23, 2023.
  16. Research Unit for Political Economy. Crisis and Predation: India, COVID-19, and Global Finance. Monthly Review Press, 2020.
  17. “COVID-19 Outbreak Management: A Task Well Begun, Writes Urjit Patel,” April 6, 2020.
  18. Press Trust of India. “Adani Group Company Likely To Be Rated Higher Than Sovereign .” Outlook, October 13, 2022.

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