LOOT & SCOOT ARTISTS AND WHATABOUTERY

Sunday Express - - OPINION - SHANKKAR AIYAR Au­thor of and

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 muchad­ver­tised 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 gov­ern- ment 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 witch­hunt. 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 re- port­ing 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 ac­count­abil­ity.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.