Farce over Mallya
Almost all the newspapers last Sunday had on the front page the report of Indian High Commissioner in London Navtej Sarna walking out of an event where industrialist Vijay Mallya was present. Mallya is a declared offender for money laundering and his presence was said to be a source of big embarrassment for the Indian envoy and he decided to leave.
However, on closer examination, it is discerned that the embarrassment for the Indian envoy was less on account of Mallya’s presence and more on account of being taken to task by a hyper-active social media, which went on to comment about Mallya’s presence as “the absconder rubbing shoulders with the envoy”.
The very “dynamics” of the event would show that the government or its representative in London is little averse to Mallya'sname as far has it remained discrete and saved them from any embarrassment in public. Coming back to the event, it was scheduled to release lobbyists Suhel Seth’s book “Mantras for Success: India’s Greatest CEOs Tell You How to Win”.
The function was organised by the 100 Foot Journey Club, set up as a collaboration between the Indian High Commission and London School of Economics (LSE) last month as a forum to discuss and debate issues of contemporary relevance within the India-UK sphere.
The club was launched in May with a talk at LSE on “Rethinking the Global Monetary System” by RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan. It would be interesting that in a month’s time the forum decided to schedule an event for known lobbyist releasing a book showcasing his corporate clientele. What was the criterion for the Indian High Commission to spend public money to fete a person whose client list and public lobbying is, as Shakespeare would put it, "not above suspicion."
Seth is an official lobbyist for Mallya but what probably gets him the government patronage is his known proximity to a powerful Minister in the Narendra Modi government. Though the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) was at pains to explain that Sarna had nothing to do with Mallya’s presence at the event, the absconding industrialist claimed that he was indeed invited to the function. The very next day Mallya took to twitter to say that he did not gate-crash into the event as was being made out to be but was invited.
“Never gatecrashed in my life... I am not a gatecrasher and would never be one,” Mallya tweeted on Sunday after reports appeared that he was not among the invitees.
Mallya, who according to reports, had walked in soon after the event started, said on the micro-blogging site, “I went for my friend - the author. Sat quietly with my daughter and listened. Headline news and unfounded speculation followed.”
“No evidence, No charge sheet. Before claiming all this should I not be given a chance to pursue my legal remedies? Most unfair,” he said. Now, isn’t there a doubt about who is the author of the book and would Seth deny that he is not Mallya’s friend.
Earlier, the MEA statement defending Sarna’s presence had said, “The list of invitations for the LSE event was determined by LSE. They have written to the High Commissioner that Mallya was not on their list. They have also said that the event was advertised widely through social media and attendees were not required to register in advance. Mallya was certainly not an invitee to the reception at the High Commission for which the invitations were issued by the High Commission, and was not present.”
In his defence, Seth too took to twitter stressing that Mallya was not an invited guest at the event, which was an event open to anyone who wanted to attend. He tweeted, “About @TheVijayMallya at my book launch. It was an open @SAsiaLSE & advertised on Twitter. No specific invitations. Anyone could attend.
Upon realising that @TheVijayMallya was in the audience as any other person, @NavtejSarna left before the Q&A expressing displeasure. The High Commissioner upon seeing Mallya walk in at the mid of the event got up and left. To say he rubbed shoulders or he met Mallya is incorrect.”
The larger question is not whether Mallya gate-crashed into the event or if he was invited, but what was the need for the government to host an event to facilitate the launch of a book by Suhel Seth, who has defended Mallya from every public forum notwithstanding the fact that Mallya is a declared offender in India. The Enforcement Department on June 12 attached moveable and immovable properties worth Rs 1,411 crore of Mallya and United Breweries (Holding) Limited.
A person is termed a proclaimed offender in a criminal investigation if the court decides that the accused has absconded or is concealing himself so that a warrant cannot be executed. As per the provisions of the CrPC, Mallya would be required to appear before the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court and the investigating agency within 30 days.
The whole incident makes one thing clear that in Mallya’s case, the government is running with the hare and hunting with the hound. What else explains the eagerness to host Suhel Seth’s event and cry foul over the presence of lobbyist’s best friend at the function. This indeed is duplicitous behaviour on part of the government and such moves only give credence to the allegations that Mallya was provided an escape and allowed to take refuge in the United Kingdom.
(The author is President Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. Views expressed are strictly personal.)