An old adage preaches rather piously that you cannot escape responsibility for tomorrow by evading it today. Well, it turns out that the ‘kings of good times’ have managed precisely that, inverted the axiom to evade consequences. It is not surprising that it happens. It is surprising that the system continues to be detained and denied.
This week, Vijay Mallya, the much-advertised king of good times now facing deportation charges, made a calculated legal move, but outside the court where his case was being heard. He let it be known that he had met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and offered to settle before he left for London. In response, the finance minister dismissed the claim. The cat, though, has been set among the pigeons. India’s political landscape must witness a re-run of old rhetoric.
Every decade scam artists have used the system to flee. On the night of December 3, 1984, poisonous methyl isocyanate gas leaked from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, killing thousands and maiming more for life. On December 7, a state government aircraft ferried Warren Anderson from Bhopal to Delhi, from where he fled to the United States. Justice was denied to the thousands affected. The long arm of the law typically takes its course and runs into a dead end.
In 1989, the Rajiv Gandhi government was ousted on allegations of corruption in the Bofors deal. The VP Singh regime, which won the polls on the Bofors scam plank, promised to nail the middlemen but collapsed under the weight of its contradictions in a year. The law continued to crawl its way. In July 1993, the Swiss courts permitted to make public the names of the beneficiaries behind the Swiss accounts, and Ottavio Quattrocchi was named. Even as the CBI tried to move the court to impound his passport, Mr Q fled on July 29, 1993.
Whether it was the escape of Anderson or that of Quattrocchi, neither were required to do a Houdini! The system, it would seem, had built-in mechanisms for those with affordability and ability to enable the accused to simply take a flight. The standard operating practices are well-known to defrauded institutions and to fraudsters. Theoretically, there should not be a recurrence. Practically, systemic sloth enables sequels.
In 2010, Lalit Modi, who authored the recipe for the Indian Premier League, found himself in the cauldron of charges ranging from shadow ownership of teams to betting. In April 2010, the BCCI stumped Modi and suspended him pending enquiries. Amidst the high-decibel allegations, enquiries by various agencies and speculation about his imminent arrest, Modi departed for London. In March 2011, his passport was revoked. Modi denied charges and sought asylum as a victim of a political witch-hunt. A request for his extradition is pending since February 2017.
Mallya’s plight was scarcely a secret. Doom had been prophesied --for Kingfisher and the Group. As early as 2009, the ides of excess caught up with Vijay Mallya and Kingfisher Airlines. By November 2010, the airline was reporting losses and laden with Rs 6,000 crore debt, and by November 2011, Mallya was seeking a bailout. Notwithstanding the bleeding balance sheet, Mallya got the attention of the government and therefore banks to lend more money The Mallya case is a textbook case of poor diligence, ever-greening of loans and wilful neglect.
Since 2009, it was clear that the enterprise would crash. By July 2014, Kingfisher was declared an NPA. Thereafter it was one way downhill. In October 2015, the CBI conducts searches relating to the grant of loans by IDBI. Mallya offers to pay principal amount but banks move debt recovery tribunal for recovery in February 2016. Even as bankers mull moving court to impound his passport, Mallya flees to London.
On March 10, 2016, the escape of Mallya triggered uproar and a slugfest between the government and the Opposition. Rahul Gandhi asked who stole money and who let Mallya leave. He charged the government with “allowing” Mallya to leave the country. Ghulam Nabi Azad dubbed it a criminal conspiracy. The BJP accused the UPA and Congress of forcing banks to lend money to Mallya. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley pointed out the Congress had let Quattrocchi flee. Others accused Congress of ferrying Anderson to safety.
It was no different from August 2015 after LalitGate. The Congress questioned the role of government ministers in granting exemptions to Modi’s kin. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj hit back and asked Rahul Gandhi to check with his mother about the escape of Quattrocchi and questioned who benefited from the escape of Warren Anderson. Both national parties traded charges, quoted from history and presented moral equivalence of the worst kind.
Earlier this year, history repeated itself as Nirav Modi fled the country as the Rs 14,000 crore “letter of undertaking” Punjab National Bank scam unravelled. Close on the heels of Modi, another exporter, Mehul Choksi, left the country. The debate in Parliament and the rhetoric that followed were almost a replay of the 2015 and 2016 debates on Modi and Mallya. The BJP charged Rahul Gandhi with meeting Nirav Modi and the UPA making exceptions for Modi and Choksi before the elections. The Congress retaliated by citing Modi’s presence in Davos as proof of collusion.
The political parties are chasing rhetoric points at the annual sessions of accusations and allegations, leaving the systemic fault lines unattended. Soon after the passage of the law on fugitive economic offenders, on July 25, 2018, the government informed Parliament: “The number of Indians involved in financial irregularities with the banks as well as who are under criminal investigation (who are living abroad/fled abroad) during the last three years is 23.” The government is pursuing extradition of 16 individuals from UK alone.The parade of rhetoric, the versions of history and the ensuing whataboutery have derailed firstname.lastname@example.org