It's unusual for the holder of a diplomatic passport and a Rajya Sabha MP to flee the country. But then Vijay Mallya is not an ordinary individual. He’s the man who owes Rs 9091.40 crore to public sector banks. The number of zeros in that sum may confuse any ordinary citizen.
Under fire from the media, banks, the investigating agencies and the politicians, the liquor baron on Friday in a series of tweets refuted allegations that he has made a hurried exit from India to avoid penal action.
Mallya posted: "As an Indian MP I fully respect and will comply with the law of the land. Our judicial system is sound and respected. But no trial by media."
In another tweet, he added: "I am an international businessman. I travel to and from India frequently. I did not flee from India and neither am I an absconder. Rubbish."
Amid the sordid drama, the only saving grace is that Mallya’s term as Rajya Sabha MP is ending on 30 June this year, much before the time it will take for the Ethics Committee of Parliament — which apparently has now decided to take up the issue — to arrive at a conclusion on his membership.
Mallya's defiance — as reflected in his series of tweets including a thinly veiled threat against media: "Let media bosses not forget help, favours, accommodation that I have provided over several years which are documented. Now lies to gain TRP?" — and footage of his palatial England mansion beamed on news channels indicate that he continues to treat himself like the king of good times.
The tweet has gained huge traction, indicating that most would welcome it if the tycoon reveals the names of media bosses to whom he granted favours and who enjoyed his ‘famed’ hospitality.
While going through Mallya’s tweet I was reminded of a chance encounter with one of his former employees, an airhostess of his erstwhile Kingfisher Airlines. That interaction left a deep impression and made me wonder about the lives and living conditions of thousands of employees who worked for him and were left fighting for survival.
In the run up to the 2014 parliamentary elections, I was flying to Bangalore with a political leader on a chartered flight. My purpose was to cover his tour and see how his party's campaign was going on.
It was one of those spacious private jets. On board, the airhostess, in accord with usual practice served us refreshments. She seemed to be quite diligent and went on carrying her task with the smoothness of a thorough professional. She was impeccable in discharging her duties but her smile looked a bit forced and she had the appearance of someone ill at ease. One assumed she was in awe of the rather well-known dignitary on board.
After attending the rally in Bangalore, the politician left for couple more rallies in far-off locations on a smaller chopper. The helicopter had room for one less person than the earlier jet. I volunteered to stay back, saying that I would utilise my time in filing the report and would wait for him to return either at the airport or inside the jet which brought us to Bangalore.
After finishing my work, I reached airport slightly early and inside the airplane, I found the airhostess relaxing in passenger cabin.
My entry surprised her. She got up and rushed to her designated area. I told her that she could relax, there was still some time before the political leader would arrive.
"Have you been on this chartered aircraft for long", I asked her to initiate a conversation. "No, it's only second time," she replied.
"Where have you been before?" I asked. She kept quiet. "You seem to be quite experienced in your work, have you always been with chartered flights or have you worked with commercial airliners too," I asked again.
She kept quiet for a while, said something inaudible and remained silent for a while as if thinking whether to speak or not. Did I ask something awkward, I began to wonder.
All of a sudden she choked up and suddenly started crying. She had been temporarily hired by that chartered flight company, she said after regaining composure.
“We were employed with Kingfisher, I and my husband,” she said.
“We were doing well as professionals. And then all of a sudden everything fell apart for us. You can't imagine what we have gone though. What wretched life we have been forced to lead for past few years,” she said, trying to control her emotions.
“I am quite senior in terms of experience and by industry standards my age is on the higher side. So no one would hire me and one job which I got after great effort was far below my expectations.
“It was an entry-level job and guys and girls much junior to me in age and experience would boss over me. One man destroyed it all for me and hundreds of others like us. May God never forgive Mallya."
She regained control and requested me not to discuss her plight with anyone. Her outburst, it seemed, was a result of pent up anger, grief and insecurity.
As she left for her designated area, I recalled an interaction with Mallya way back in March 2003. I, along with other correspondents, had gone to Goa to see naval preparedness on board air-craft carrier on INS Virat.
LK Advani was the chief guest. Mallya landed there as part of a delegation of MPs, parliamentary consultative committee and standing committee on defence. He was the focus of attention. During a casual interaction with us he said he had gifted a yacht to his son on his birthday.
Banks have been lending money, deposited by millions of small investors, to Mallya despite the condition of his stressed assets. The system, which tolerates not even the slightest slip-up from an ordinary loanee, gave Mallya the longest rope to exploit it with.