Mallyagate Is What Happens When You Bet On The Wrong Horse

06/04/2016 8:16 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
Statue of Hindu Gods Radha, left, and Krishna stand in the foreground as a Kingfisher Airlines flight approaches the Indira Gandhi International airport in New Delhi, India, Friday, Nov. 11, 2011. Kingfisher, which is partly owned by brewery tycoon Vijay Mallya, has canceled more than 120 flights this week as pilots and crew called in sick after their October salaries were delayed. (AP Photo/Gurinder Osan)

Once upon a time, Vijay Mallya, Rajya Sabha MP and entrepreneur extraordinaire, straddled the corporate and the sporting worlds with practiced ease. His passion for all things royal, including horses, was evident at a stud farm in Kunigal where horses were bred for his United Racing and Bloodstock Breeders (URBB). At one time, imported thoroughbreds from this farm used to chase the best and win races. Today, however, we are witnessing the might of the CBI, SEBI, and ED chasing the owner of a defunct Kingfisher Airlines; a man who has been declared a 'wilful defaulter' by a consortium of banks.

At a time when I am debating whether to pay my house tax or monthly apartment dues, Vijay Mallya could be debating which plane to board--a Hawker or a Gulfstream. Let's face it, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Talking of horses, a horse, they say, never runs as fast as when there are other horses to outpace. In February 2016, when banks realized that they had bet on the wrong horse, an unbridled Mallya galloped away to London. According to reports, he left on 2 March, 2016 with multiple bags, equivalent to the luggage of seven passengers. "For two people, I don't think that's too much. I pack heavy. That's how I travel," Mallya neighed.

In February 2016, when banks realized that they had bet on the wrong horse, an unbridled Mallya galloped away to London.

Once the stallion had bolted, opposition members made hay. A Congress spokesperson said, "Mallya has run away from India using the 'Fair and Lovely' scheme of the BJP." The BJP horsed around by saying, "Mallya is Congress's baby. The UPA pushed banks to give him repeated loans." Having closed the door after the horse had bolted, the finance minister, Arun Jaitley argued that the government couldn't have put a cart before the horse because, "that day (March2, when Mallya left) there was no order of any agency to stop him from leaving the country. He left before the banks moved the Supreme Court for seizure of his passport." The Finance Minister also gave a stern warning to defaulters to settle their dues or face "coercive action". Well, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot force it to drink, right?

In order to squeeze the last pip of our outrage, the television channels showed us old clips where Mallya is canoodling with bikini-clad girls and pretty flight attendants but there was little talk about the bank officials who horsed around with Mallya. Why did they bet on a sick horse? How were the valuations done in a sinking aviation environment? When most airlines were losing money, what business plan was accepted as gospel? And why?

If buying Gandhi's spectacles for $1.8 million wasn't enough, Mallya can always say 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' to prove his patriotism.

Given that the Mallya chase has entered its last leg, the absconding industrialist got off his high horse and offered to pay back ₹4000 crore by September. He claimed to be an Indian to the core who wants to return home. If buying Gandhi's wire-rimmed spectacles for $1.8 million wasn't enough, Mallya can always say 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' to prove his patriotism. Alternatively, he can take a return flight and bring Lalit Modi along. Let's not play ponies, but who wants the Trojan to return? He could reveal sleazy details about politicians, bureaucrats, banks and the media being together in bed. And indeed if the CBI begins questioning lending decisions, it could instil fear in bankers and freeze credit disbursals.

So how do we win the Derby? Well, there is no point outraging in the Parliament when it does not lead to reforms in the financial sector. Bank distress is an old wound. There are many wounded horses listed by Credit Suisse in its report 'House of Debt' with humongous loans. While the banks are contemplating a response to Mallya's recent offer, the system will breed more like him unless the rot is addressed. Moreover, if the banks bargain for less than what is due, it will set off a dangerous precedent for other defaulters. What is clear is that Mallya took everyone for a ride: it's not that he couldn't pay but that he didn't want to pay.

That said, the only thing shorter than public memory is public enthusiasm. Once we are done with 'Mall-liya Bhag-liya' jokes, we could happily queue up to watch a Bollywood movie called 'Mallya Returns'. An item number on his super yacht, the Indian Empress could be an added bonus. My choice for the title role would be Anil Kapoor. What say?

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