Vijay Mallya has been living life king-size - or what's worse, Kingfisher size - for years, burning up taxpayers' money. He exited Delhi, right under the nose of a very alert and watchful government despite the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had cast himself in the role of a "gate-keeper" of national wealth. Mallya checked in 11 jumbo suitcases. The media had got wind that he fleeing, but not, the concerned arms of the government.
Lalit Modi had shown the way to Mallya. He proved how one could live in outlandish comfort, beyond the reach of the arm of law; especially if one had faithful and powerful friends. Who is a friend, after all, except one who is a friend in need? In such respects, the solidarity of the underworld proves far superior and more trustworthy than all moral codes in civil societies.
Now it's Nirav Modi's turn. He has made his two illustrious predecessors look pygmies in crime. Mallya, especially, may feel upstaged; for Nirav has gobbled up a larger piece of our resources than he dared to. Given his megalomania, he is not the one to enjoy being out-sized and outsmarted.
The funniest thing is that while this happened, the government feigned ignorance. Like a naive maiden encountered only in fairy tales, it gets outwitted each time. It wakes up and springs into action only after the horses have gone past the stable.
Then an elaborate and expensive charade of extradition begins. Taxpayers' money is burned up further. No one believes that a penny taken out of the country will be brought back. But the elaborate efforts undertaken with public flourishes afford some psychological relief.
That psychology merits a second look. Suppose your gatekeeper is alert and he avoids a theft from your house, you will hardly take note of him. You'll say, "Well, he was doing his duty, after all." Suppose he looks the other way and burglars make away with all valuables in your house, and he springs into belated action, threatening doom and destruction on the burglars, you get impressed. You cannot help being grateful; even if you know that it is not going to bring any material relief to you.
Psychology apart, the time has come for us to face two home truths. First, no government can be fooled, unless it wants to be fooled. Even in a village of illiterate men and women, tongues begin to wag when someone starts to live way beyond his means. It is not rocket science that no one would burn away his hard-earned money.
Profligacy portends criminality. A man who has no shame to show off at the expense of his fellow human beings is a criminal ipso facto. It takes an almighty effort of self-deception to believe otherwise.
Second, when the government professes inability - frontally or impliedly - to forestall the escape of criminals, it is bad news for the people. Its meaning is simple, and tragic. It is an announcement that it has no will to affect the systemic reforms required. What confirms this apprehension all the more is the eagerness to palm off responsibility.
So, it is because the Congress was in power in 2011 that Nirav Modi bled the nation and fled in 2018. (It doesn't matter that that party ceased to be in office in early 2014.) A more cynical statement - cynical of the intelligence of citizens - cannot be launched into the public domain. And the predictable consistency with which this has been asserted by every spokesperson of BJP dashes all hopes that we may expect better days ahead.
Amid this chaos, the Indian middle class continues to live precariously between mega scams; suffering blows after blows and sinking progressively into despair and helplessness.
The change from UPA-2 to NDA-2 needs to be noted. Prior to 2014, housewives, elderly mothers in particular, felt financially secure with the small household deposits they had; garnered laboriously over a long period of time, penny-pinching day after day. Via demonetisation, this meagre domestic financial security was flushed out of their hands. All moneys were force-driven into banks.
While this was done, nothing to curb bank profligacy was undertaken. NPAs are a misnomer. The gigantic sums flushed out of our banking system should be called BMAs, or Black Money Assets; which is what they are. A lion's share of it has become "black" - more of it outside the country than inside. The point is that it was "black" in intent from the start itself.
Modi, who promised to bring every rupee of overseas black money back home for the elevation all Indians, should at least have done all he could to ensure that this amount - already standing at a staggering Rs 90 lakh core - did not swell any further. Nirav Modi has replenished that stinking stock of stolen goods substantially. We find it difficult to believe that the flight of these mega robbers could not have been forestalled.
In practical terms, every Indian who believes the flagrantly unconvincing versions and arguments put out for public consumption - for palliative effect on public panic in the wake of each of these economic crimes - is at last as culpable as these criminals are. Such crimes are perpetrated, and responsibility for eradicating them disowned, only because it is presumed axiomatically that "the common man is an ass". Criminals, in comparison, are smart. And why shouldn't the smart thrive, as is in consonance with the law of nature in a Darwinian society?
As of now, the choice is no longer between being smart or stupid. It is between having your hard-earned money to yourself to meet your daily needs or having to live in penury, wondering from where the next meal would come.
Far more than the government, each citizen is duty-bound to exercise greater, and more informed, vigilance about his welfare. Let's not expect the government to do what we couldn't be bothered to do for ourselves.
Looking back, it is difficult to resist the thought that demonetisation was the decisive landmark even in this respect. That experiment established, beyond any doubt, that there is no limit to the endurance and credulity of the common man in this country.
A mountain of personal misery can be swept away with a modicum of hypnotic words uttered with due gravity. Nirav Modi could have been chuckling to himself during those days when a whole nation stood in queues for the luxury of availing a few rupees of one's own hard-earned money.