Of all the drama that has unfolded over the last four months or so, what surprises me the most is that no one took the pain to explain Vijay Mallya’s side of the saga.
The ongoing smear campaign, in prime-time debates on national television and in editorials of pink dailies, has seldom presented a sane, balanced view of both the sides, of the side which Mallya chose and why did he do so.
His side? You must surely be joking is your first thought, right?
Oh wait, I think the writer is attempting subtle sarcasm, scurries past the second thought! But to disappoint you, no it is not.
I am not trying to be funny or use sarcasm to batter ‘The King of Good Times’. But what is his side then, you ask, other than flashy cars, half nude girls, and beer-guzzling parties? And why am I being the devil’s advocate again?
His side is simple.
As far as the law goes, he is not guilty. He is at best, a scapegoat, a bad businessman whose example will be made of if and when he returns to India.
How so, you ask? Let me explain.
First things first. Vijay Mallya is not Kingfisher and Kingfisher is not Mallya. Vijay Mallya is not United Breweries and United Breweries is certainly not Mallya.
Vijay Mallya is/was a limited liability partnership in Kingfisher Airlines, which was held under the parent group of United Breweries.
Limited liability in layman’s language means that of all the risk that is being taken by a company, the promoter group/person can be held responsible (in case of failure) only until the limits ‘as mentioned’ in the contract.
The law, the Indian Penal Code you so revere, allows that. True Mallya has made use of a loophole to secure his behind in case the company failed, but hey! we would all have done that and we do, on a daily basis.
Secondly, Mallya was provided loans, loans on loans, more loans, and then had his loans restructured by a consortium of 17 banks, headed by people competent enough to become the chairperson of even the central-frigging-bank. Competent enough is the keyword here.
Why none of them ever became is evident now. These 17 banks include the nation’s biggest lender, State Bank of India. Are we to then say our banking system is so gullible and easily influenced that any Tom, Dick, or Harry could take loans and disappear, while we cry foul and run pillar to post?
Why could not one report, not one bank, not one accountancy firm points out that the airline was sick and could turn belly-up any moment?
Was everyone paid off to look the other way when the airline stopped paying its employees?
Sample this. Kingfisher airlines had run up a debt of Rs 7,000 crore by 2009. In 2009, a bank, which had earlier rejected Kingfisher’s plea for loans gave it a loan of Rs 900 crore. Do the numbers add up? Surely this pittance of a sum given would not have helped the airline!
How then, did the sick airline manage this one-time flu-shot? And for what purpose? Was the repayment plan asked? What about the collateral? Due-diligence? No? Guessed so.
If you have ever taken a loan, even for Rs One lakh, you would be familiar with the number of questions that banks throw at you. Why the loan, why now, how will you repay, what do you do, what does your father do, what did his father do, what did the dinosaurs do et al.
So, if you want to hold Mallya by the scrum of his neck, hold the banks too. Hold the banks that are acting like the victims now, running to the Supreme court every other day, liable too for the failures of Kingfisher. And oh! What about the board of directors of Kingfisher Airlines? Surely they are as responsible too? Or were they given some sweetheart deals too?
Secondly, Kingfisher airlines were declared a non-performing asset on the last day of 2012 by SBI. That is three years before the banks were exasperated and finally said, ‘We are not sure Mr. Mallya has any intention of paying back the money he owes us’! What the actual fuck?
Were they waiting for some angelic signal from heaven to start acting on it, before finally opening the case again and declaring Mallya a wilful defaulter? The banks are not operating a charity stall. Wonder why and how was the charity done in this case!
Thirdly, those saying the airline did not pay salaries on time, hey you were all consenting adults, who chose to work for the company when it was going down. Did Mallya, by any means, hold you bound? Why was this never reported to the authorities?
Were all the 1800 odd employees so blown away by the glitz and glamour surrounding the Bengaluru-based businessman that no one ever thought of resigning and looking for other avenues? On a personal level, I know a pilot who quit after he was not paid for 12 months at a stretch.
And I know another, who continued working, for some 24 months before the airline finally called it quits and stopped flying altogether. Now, I am not blaming anyone for the choice they made of having stayed with the airline. I know finding a job is by no means an easy task.
But hey! whatever happened to the desperate times desperate measures jingle? If Vijay Mallya made bad business choices, why did not one staff from the airline ever raise any finger or write to the regulators about it?
Fourthly, those blaming the government for the fiasco, wake up. The government cannot and must not intervene in the day to day functions of companies or banks. Mallya is a bad-businessman who has no plans as of now to return the money he owes, to the banks.
There are processes that the bank can follow to recover all or a part of it. The government can only issue directives, not handhold the banks into these operations. Also, those blaming the government for letting Mallya escape, please note this.
Vijay Mallya is a Rajya Sabha member, nominated to the house, and not directly elected. Add to that is the fact that he is a Non-Resident Indian. The law requires him to stay out of India for at least six months in succession, in a period of five years. He has by no means ‘gone absconding’ from the country.
He is making use of loopholes, the loopholes which lawyers across the globe are happy to exploit all the time for their clients.
Finally, it is heartening to see the central bank governor taking a stand against wilful defaulters, asking them to behave when they owe the banks so much and not throw birthday parties. Educated and sensible as much he is, Rajan saheb seems to forget what Mallya does with his own money is his call.
If the law permits, he could dance naked atop one of his many yachts and get away with it. We hate him because we believe he is rubbing his money, the money he has earned toiling hard since he was 28 years old, into our faces. We hate him because he has been made the poster boy of what happens if you are seen with pretty girls all the time.
We loathe him because we believe he has no right whatsoever to spend his money the way he wants before he pays off each and every penny of his company’s debit. Here, any eye-opener – He may be a wilful defaulter, and his company may not have paid salaries to thousands of employees.
But his right to party is a democratic right. Emotions cannot get in the way of the law. Public sentiment cannot, and must not affect the decisions of the courts. Those that get influenced by public pressure or hue and cry are Kangaroo courts.
The point I have tried here to put across is that Vijay Mallya, or for that matter any businessman who defaults is a bad businessman. But he/she is not responsible alone. The banks, the corporate board, the system, the governance together should share the blame load.
And instead of bickering about how one is wrong, while we all are pious as the river, the focus should be on the greater good of how the problem at hand can be solved.
You could extradite Mallya and punish him, sentence him to 100 years in jail, but that would not fetch anyone a penny, right?
It sounds much like a moral studies lesson, but frankly, there is no other way. Whether Mallya chooses to return or not is his call. But if he does, please do not bay for his blood. And not his life either. It will give you momentary satisfaction, but the overall scenario of lending and borrowing will remain unchanged. Let public sentiments not guide the rulings of courts.
P.S: This topic was discussed in one of the many knowledge sessions held in my office. If anyone from my workplace ever reads this, know that I am grateful for all the enlightenment. It helped.
Alternatively, you can also refer to Sky High Crucifixion.