Vijay Mallya ran from India under BJP's watch; Modi scores if he brings him back

His made-for-TV extradition saga will be the bull's eye for PM's anti-corruption narrative.

 |  Angiography  |  7-minute read |   18-04-2017
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Vijay Mallya is a name that calls for instant dramatisation and fantastic TV as well as political one-upmanship games among powers that be. The boss of the now defunct Kingfisher Airlines and India's most well known liquor baron was arrested today by Scotland Yard in London after India's request to extradite the "international businessman" from the UK. 

Only to be granted bail shortly, deflating the balloon of "Yes! He's been nabbed" in no time.

The 61-year-old United Breweries head was arrested at about 9:30 am London local time - 3 pm Indian time - after he appeared at a central London police station and was taken to Westminster's Magistrates Court in London, where he was granted bail. Mallya later tweeted that this was due process, part of UK following up on India's extradition order request, and the arrest hoopla was "usual India media hype".

mallya_041817043707.jpg Vijay Mallya is wanted in FERA violations and loan default cases, and is currently in the United Kingdom. [Photo: Agencies] 

Mallya is one the most wanted Indians who has defaulted on over Rs 9,000 crores and is one of the faces on which Prime Minister Narendra Modi's anti-corruption narrative depends. #BringMallyaBack is a trend that returns periodically in slight variations, and bhakt news channels and publications derive orgiastic pleasure in showcasing the BJP's seriousness about bringing the "King of Good Times" back.

It's another matter that Mallya left the building, we mean the country, in mysterious circumstances, and fled to Britain, in March last year. He's wanted in a string of cases regarding foreign exchange violation, fraud, defaulting on public bank loan amounting to Rs 9,000 crore and other crimes, and CBI has chargesheeted him in January this year.

Moreover, India has also sent across a formal request from the CBI and Enforcement Directorate to the British High Commission for Mallya's extradition on February 8 this year.

Getting Mallya back

The high-voltage drama of Vijay Mallya's always will-it-happen-or-not deportation happens in the backdrop of long-drawn due process. According to India Today reports, if he's indeed deported sometime in the future, it will be as per UK's Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) to India. After that, the flamboyant billionaire would face proceedings in the Indian court of law and will be tried under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

His sudden departure on March 2, 2016, was shrouded in uncertainty over what exactly happened and how was it that a notorious and overly conspicuous tycoon managed to hoodwink the CBI and other authorities pursuing him. It was a big dent in Modi government's anti-corruption plank and during the pre-notebandi months, bringing back black money and allegedly corrupt industrialists like Mallya took a backseat for a while.

Mallya fled to UK (some say he had help from connected politicians in the government itself) days after a consortium of 17 banks led by the State Bank of India moved the Debt Recovery Tribunal to hear a July 2013 petition to recover dues worth Rs 9,081 crore, including interest, that was loaned out to the now defunct Kingfisher Airlines.

Earlier this month, a Delhi court issued an open-ended non-bailable warrant against Mallya over alleged violation of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act by the absconding billionaire.

Today's development might be bad TV, since no screaming headline or hashtag saying #MallyaNabbed could be trended for more than an hour, but it is sure part of a long-drawn script that is written to last a while, at least until its electoral utility is fully harnessed.

Why Mallya matters for Modi

A recurring allegation against the BJP is that it tries taking the moral high ground on corruption while waiving/writing off bad debts worth thousands of crores and blaming the corporate loan default crisis on ten years of UPA regime. The comparisons with another absconder - the former IPL czar Lalit Modi - keep haunting Modi government and deflating its anti-corruption balloon.

Moreover, even Mallya has justifiably cried foul that bigger loan defaulters - particularly the Ambani, Adani, Ruia, among others - are getting kid-glove treatment by Modi government, while he has become the face of the BJP's strong-against-corruption narrative. That even the Supreme Court frowned over Rs 1,14,000 crore worth corporate loans written off by PSU banks means Mallya is more a prestige issue than anything else.

It has already been reported that the BJP is very much in poll mode and is getting ready for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, after the stunning victory in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. Securing a massive mandate would not only seal Narendra Modi's reputation as the strongest leader of contemporary India, but would also demonstrate that he has simply no competition from his peers.

Snap decisions such as the controversial demonetisation diktat as well as thought-out, bipartisan achievements such as the upcoming GST regime, as well as Modi's cashless push are all aimed at consolidating the anti-corruption narrative that Narendra Modi and his Union cabinet take very seriously.

Mallya as political capital

It is in this context that we must read the Mallya story, which is episodic in nature, and surfaces periodically to strengthen the BJP's official storyline on nabbing the defaulter. But as is well known, extraditing Mallya is going to be a stretched saga of back-and-forth orders and counter orders as well as a whole lot of court drama in the UK and then, hopefully in India.

It is Mallya's entitled arrogance and repeated defiance in the face of Modi government's telegenic attempts to get him that has really made him into a high-value political asset to be used over and over again. It's both a great deflection technique from uncharitable headlines of the day, as well as an episodic addition to Modi's arsenal of counter-corruption claims.

Also, indicting Mallya is hardly a priority as of now as is the grand spectacle of dragging him back to India, thereby claiming the anti-corruption narrative fully and forcefully. It is more than likely than this extravaganza, which would be covered with round-the-clock TV news and attendant collective euphoria over Modi managing the impossible, would be played out closer to the 2019 general elections, so that public memory is freshly imprinted with immaculate Modi's anti-corruption crusader image.

Whether or not Mallya is ultimately brought to justice is immaterial at the moment. But the spectacle of him being legally snubbed by the governments of India and the UK is the real issue with recurring gains. His token arrest today therefore could be the prelude to Modi's final surgical strike before 2019 poll bugle is duly sounded with great pomp and fanfare.

The "King of Good Times" is really the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg of little anti-corruption nuggets, as far as Modi sarkar is concerned.

Also read: How Vijay Mallya outwitted ED and fled India scot-free



Angshukanta Chakraborty Angshukanta Chakraborty @angshukanta

Former assistant editor, DailyO

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