Sanjay Jha column: Fugitives living the high life overseas are just the tip of the iceberg

·5 min read
Nirav Modi (left) and Mehul Choksi. Photo: Getty Images
Nirav Modi (left) and Mehul Choksi. Photo: Getty Images

There are spasmodic outbursts in the national media from time to time about India’s celebrated fugitive absconders being extradited back home for the ignominious coolers at either Tihar Jail or Arthur Road. Among the celebrated names are principally former liquor baron Vijay Mallya, the creator of Indian Premier League Lalit Modi, and the diamond czars Mehul Choksi and Nirav Modi, an uncle and nephew enterprise who collectively swindled India’s compromised banking system.

There are others in the rogue’s gallery too but they have not yet captured the flashing bulbs yet, for instance Jatin Mehta and Vikram Kothari. The list of racketeers is long but the dominant cast are those mentioned above. At the time of writing none have returned although every time there is a headline banner on TV (which appear when the government is in a serious disorder) broadcasting their imminent capture, it seems as if we will see them handcuffed and cordoned off by khaki-clad pot-bellied cops , a far cry from the days of Louis Vuitton suits and Maybach car-rides, accompanied by superstar models.

But there is a feeling of déjà vu here. We have seen it and done that watching these choreographed shows. One is aware that this is just a diversionary TV commercial, like Rahul Dravid saying “ I am the goonda of Indiranagar”. He is not. Nothing is really happening.

But a propaganda obsessed government does not give up easily. It believes periodic assertions reinforce its “ neeyat”, its intent to fix financial skulduggery. And in an information, news overloaded world nothing works better than calibrated repetition. The average viewer probably tells himself ‘kuchh to hoga’. The government’s objective meets the bull’s eye. Okay then, let’s move on to the next scene. Literally.

Why am I so cynical and dismissive about these ridiculous side-shows that the world sees as unprecedented steps against recovering black-money? The answer is straightforward: when the country has literally abandoned governance, a second coronavirus wave has destroyed a country’s confidence (nearly 4 lakh dead, 30 million caseload, and still having 50,000 cases per day) and the Delhi High Court says that the failed vaccination policy is akin to manslaughter, we are still indulging in phantasmagoric games. It adds insult to injury.

There is rampant joblessness, the poor have got further impoverished, small-scale entrepreneurs are totally broke and the middle-class has shrunk enormously in its spending power. India is at the crossroads of despair and depravity. India needs healing, not a headline.

The facts of the case expose the disingenuous behaviour of the government. While most businessmen play a balancing performance to keep all political parties pleased, Mallya, Choksi and Nirav Modi were intimately close to the BJP. They were allegedly chaperoned abroad to their sexy destinations with political patronage. It is hardly a public secret that the security apparatus at international airports was lowered to facilitate them to their First Class cabins with fine champagne on the menu. And to Antigua (Choksi got a clearance from border patrol, police, right down to the securities commission (SEBI) to obtain citizenship in the serene Caribbean islands).

And this after complaints about his larceny were given to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2015. Nirav Modi blissfully appeared in Davos for a photo-op with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Davos symbolizes modern capitalism at its affluent yet hypocritical best; they talk climate change after arriving in their private jets in the Swiss Alps. Money talks. Nirav Modi was hobnobbing with the crème de la crème of global Richie Rich who saw him as part of the Indian entourage.

Of course, the BJP would have us believe that Modi-Modi presence was just a cosmic coincidence. The give-aways are so brazen its laughable.

If the government were serious about black-money, work would start at home. Former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan gave a list of India’s biggest loan defaulters (wilful, if I may add) to the PMO way back in 2015. To this date, that secret file has not seen the light of day (mysteriously, the ‘independent RBI’ refuses to make its content public).

Compared to the illustrious heavyweights speculated to be on that file, Mallya and Choksi are like Mary’s little lamb. Do you see the blatant artifice? India’s public sector banking loot can be called as the Great Indian Bank Robbery. Politicians of all hues are involved.

Is it not intriguing that the Anil Ambani Reliance group that has gone belly-up, was being given offsets deal for the Rafael jets? Surprising, right? Further, the government sent a rented private Gulfstream jet allegedly costing the Indian taxpayer Rs 8.45 lakh an hour to fetch Choksi from Dominica (for several days it made Modi look like a messiah against the crooked and the criminals, which was perhaps its sole purpose). It came back empty-handed. Right now, seized assets worth Rs 9,000 crores are making hurricane-like waves.

But what nobody tells you is that repossessed properties and assets are hugely discounted at auction time, given hidden litigation risks. Recoveries, if at all, will only be fractional.

India’s underworld money is here. But then going after them does not have the atmospherics associated with sleuths bringing in a flamboyant former playboy entrepreneur from Heathrow who was the toast of the town not so long ago. Whose sea-facing Goa mansion saw parties that people made a beeline to get an invite for. Politicians included. And in the meantime, we do not even know the truth behind the real number of deaths during the ghastly summer of 2021, when COVID-ripped the body of India. When people could not breathe. It is reportedly exponentially higher but the numbers have been deliberately massaged. Anyway.

India seems to be happy with its delusions of grandeur. But it will take a lot more than a doctored twist to a breaking news to drown the macabre reality of bloated bodies flowing in odd-shaped assemblies down the Ganga.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author and do not reflect the views of Yahoo.

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