Are we bashing Mallya for being rich and flashy?

Now suddenly it's as if everything is wrong about him.

 |  6-minute read |   15-03-2016
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First of all, I'm not a very big fan of industrialist Vijay Mallya and think the government should act fast to recover all his dues. However, the way he is being hounded, a question can be asked: Are we targeting Mallya more because he is flamboyant? Is his lavish lifestyle working against him as much as his business acumen?

First of all, let us discuss Hasan Ali Khan whom most Indian citizens haven't even heard of. In 2007, this unknown businessman was probed for Swiss bank accounts to the tune of billions of dollars and there were allegations of huge Hawala trading (money laundering).

To make a long story short, his black money was estimated at more than Rs 50,000 crore and that money kept increasing steadily. There was talk of Rs 90,000 crore-odd in tax arrears in 2011 and by 2015, the standing committee of finance said in its report in the Lok Sabha that Hasan Ali owes an astounding Rs 1,65,665 crore in tax arrears.

Also read: Why Vijay Mallya has landed at the bottom of the barrel

Am I missing something? Isn't this the biggest story of the century? This is far bigger than the 2G and Coalgate scams. While that amount involved in those scams was to the tune of around Rs 2 lakh crores, what was the actual "loss to the exchequer"?

What was the actual scam amount? Nobody knows. It could be a fraction of what was reported. Nobody really investigated it properly. It could be one-fifth or one-tenth. Who knows? Nobody really dug deep enough.

Also read: Dirty little things poor Vijay Mallya must do for stayin' alive

And here's someone, in Hasan Ali, who owes Rs 1.65 lakh crore to the government and somehow that passes off as a routine story and most Indians still don't know of him. Nobody is targeting him. Nobody is attacking him. Nobody cares. Strange, isn't it?

Then there's the issue of bank loan itself. Have you tried taking a bank loan? If you do, then you'll realise what a tedious procedure it is. Sometimes just for taking a car loan for a Maruti Alto, you may end up putting 60-70 signatures on the banks' endless forms.

They'll look at you with suspicion and do thorough background checks. So the question to be asked is this: Why did the banks stand in queue to give loans to Mallya in the first place? It doesn't matter how rich you are. Once your credit rating crashes, the loans have to stop.

Also read - Ravi Shankar to Vijay Mallya: Modi's India and the art of living it up

That happened quite some time back in the Mallya affair. The banks have to be hauled up and questions have to be asked regarding the loans. However, everybody is busy attacking Mallya.

Then what happens when you don't repay a loan? A poor middle class citizen may be harassed for the same and there have been many stories of goondas jumping into the fray. In fact the Sanjay Dutt movie EMI (2008) was made on the same topic.

So if you can go all out for recovering a few lakhs, why do you keep mum when there's the question of recovering a few crores? If the first question to be asked is how the banks gave him money in the first place, the second is why there was such a lame recovery attempt.

Also read: Vijay Mallya affair has exposed the rot in banking sector

Was there any political pressure and if so, who was applying the pressure? We have to be asking all these questions and investigating the case threadbare. Anf then, why was Mallya allowed to leave the country and not brought in for questioning? However, everybody is busy attacking Mallya.

The real questions are not being asked in the Mallya affair.

Here's another interesting fact. Most of the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise owners are facing jail or arrest or have cases against them. Defunct Pune Warriors India owner Subrata Roy is languishing in jail. Defunct Deccan Chargers owner T Venkattram Reddy was arrested.

Sunrisers Hyderabad owners Kalanithi and Dayanidhi Maran are in a soup. Rajasthan Royals' Raj Kundra is under investigation. Preity Zinta filed a case against Kings XI Punjab's Ness Wadia and even Kolkata Knight Riders' Shah Rukh Khan was questioned by the enforcement directorate.

However, Royal Challengers Bangalore owner Mallya is being attacked far more than the individuals just mentioned. All you have to do is check Twitter and you'll find everything related to Mallya ridiculed, from his Kingfisher Swimsuit Calendar to his flamboyant lifestyle to the way he handled RCB.

He does have his faults and strengths but now suddenly it's as if everything is wrong about him.

He made one interesting tweet:

Interestingly, he made an all out attack on the media too:

And,

Right now the focus is too much on Mallya maybe because he's a flamboyant and an easy target. Till yesterday, many in the media were his friends even though all of them were well aware of all the things that are in focus now.

To sum up, the questions to be asked are these:

1. Why did the banks give Mallya the loans in the first place when his credit rating had fallen?

2. Why did the banks make no serious effort to recover those loans?

3. Did any minister save Mallya?

4. Why was Mallya allowed to leave the country when investigations had finally reached an advanced stage?

And finally, but most importantly...

5. Does the government have an action plan in place to seize his assets, recover all bank loans and more importantly, pay the salaries of Kingfisher employees which have been pending for ages?

None of these questions need to be asked of Mallya.

The only question asked of him was by the Supreme Court of India as late as March 9 and it gave him two weeks to respond. If he comes to India and responds and cooperates and his assets manage to pay back the loans and salaries, then well and good.

If not, and if this whole case blows up in everyone's face, then many more questions need to be asked to umpteen senior representatives of the banks and government of India. But I wonder if any of these questions will be asked and fear that the focus will be on the flamboyant Mallya till the very end. Now that would be a real tragedy indeed.

Writer

Sunil Rajguru Sunil Rajguru @sunilrajguru

The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.

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