For some politicians and media commentators, the moral high ground is a perch too juicy to pass up. All life is a morality play, and as self-appointed arbiters of societal rectitude, they themselves bear the burden of cleansing its soul. And when anything out of the ordinary happens – when, for instance, a flamboyant businessman runs his airline to the ground – it’s easy to see where the fault lies: in the babes and bimbettes the tycoon surrounds himself with.
Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray has claimed with obvious exaggeration that Kingfisher Airlines’ sky-high pile of debt owes to “Vijay Mallya’s flamboyant lifestyle.” Pointing to Mallya’s many businesses and his worldly possessions – all of which make for markers of the Good Life – the ascetic Thackeray observed snarkily that Mallya himself “does not know how much he spends on cheergirls during IPL matches.”
Thackeray’s other point — that Kingfisher Airlines is undeserving of a government bailout – is entirely valid. There is no earthly reason why taxpayers should pitch in to bail out the King of Good Times. But that argument in defence of sound economics is worth making in and of itself without lacing it with a morality strand.
And in fact, Thackeray’s pitch that the government should “rather help Air India and pay more to its employees” dilutes even his economic argument subtantially: after all, if Kingfisher is unworthy of a government bailout, why should the taxpayer throw good money after bad on a sinking Air India?
A similar undercurrent of morality-laced snark characterises most media commentaries about Kingfisher Airlines. “He is the playboy at 50+, almost obsessive about attention,” notes one commentary. “If his own achievements cannot produce that sense of awe, then the spectacles he creates become the Viagra of his cocky self.”
Mallya the man himself may be in the hotseat today, but he refuses to be forced on the defensive about his fondness for the good things in life. Asked if his lifestyle made him a soft target for the media, since he was seen to have “squandered a lot of money on expensive toys”, Mallya – who was (somewhat uncharacteristically for him) dressed in a suit – said his current travails and his business downturn wouldn’t induce him to trade his suite for white khadi. “I am what I am, and I play straight and honest, transparently and openly.”
There are many grounds on which Mallya’s business acumen is open to criticism. But his flamboyance and lifestyle – or the babes and bimbettes he surrounds himself with – are immaterial unless you can establish that he’s been stripping away his business assets to subsidise his lavish lifestyle.
If that were the case, it wouldn’t matter one whit if Mallya were a vegetarian ascetic whose only indulgence is a daily dose of bisi-bela bath.
Equally, if he isn’t guilty of asset-stripping his companies, what Mallya does to promote his Good Times brand image – or even just indulge his playboy fancies – has no bearing on the merit of letting his airline sink or soar.
Sound economic and business decisions are by their very nature hard to take. Let’s not drown it with the gush of male hormones or of the thunderous hectoring of moral crusaders.