With ammunition to the fill, Opposition Congress and the ruling alliance of NDA are bracing up for a battle royal on Mallya’s claim that he had left the country after a meeting with finance minister Arun Jaitley during which he had offered to settle his dues to the banks and informed the minister that he was leaving for a scheduled meeting in Geneva. As expected, Jaitley has denied he ever had a formal meeting with Mallya, but recalled the fugitive billionaire accosting him in the aisle of Parliament House while he was heading to his office and tried to strike a conversation and pass on some papers, which the minister refused to receive.
Although Mallya later acknowledged that there was no formal meeting, it would be naive to expect Congress to let a great opportunity like this pass. So Rahul was ready with his challenge to the Modi government, accusing the finance minister of help in ‘organising’ free passage for Mallya, just as PM’s alleged meeting in Davos, put on record by a photograph in which both appeared, had helped master swindler Nirav Modi give the slip. Also a serious question has been raised as to how a person against whom a look-out notice was in force managed to roam free. Jaitley’s failure to bring the matter to the notice of the enforcement officials has been interpreted as a sign of complicity. All these are serious charges that the government will find difficult to deflect. To make matters worse, Jaitley-basher Subramanian Swamy has added his own layer, claiming that the order to downgrade the notice against Mallya came from the finance ministry.
Not to be undone, the ruling party has produced a letter written by Mallya to former prime minister Manmohan Singh, appreciating his help to the sinking Kingfisher airlines to secure funds. According to BJP, the generous help was extended at the behest of the Gandhi family, which had a strange interest in bailing out the tycoon. The Congress party has been further provoked by an alleged Congress link with Mallya’s latest claim about his meeting with Jaitley. Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad questioned the timing of Mallya’s comment, which came days after Rahul Gandhi visited London. Prasad alleged that Mallya and Rahul were working in tandem.
There is huge pressure building up due to the ‘western disturbance’ which is threatening to blow away the claims of both sides and heavy collateral damage is indicated. While there is no dearth of issues in the run-up to the 2019 elections, with the Rafale deal already in a muddle, it is clear that the Mallya escape will be an item of hot pursuit, the severity of which will depend on how the London court decides on India’s request for the fugitive’s extradition.