FORTUNE FAVOURS THE brave but not necessarily the flamboyant. And certainly not flamboyance that refuses to go even in the face of criminal charges and bankruptcy. It is hard not to feel some pity for Vijay Mallya as those who broke bread and champagne with him in his many parties bay for his blood. Banks which colluded in shoring him up with thousands of crores even when Kingfisher Airlines was a lost cause now play victim. The media, which happily accepted his advertisements and wrote garrulously about his yachts and cars and the women in bikinis he propped up on each hand, now rail bitterly about fraud.
There is weight in the allegations against him, but it is no more and no less than what many businessmen in India have been doing and no one is surprised at it either. When businesses go bust, all the skeletons come tumbling out of the closet. The reason Mallya finds himself receiving more that the usual share of antagonism is because of two cardinal sins. The first is failure. The second is not behaving like a failure, exhibiting a wilful delusion that it is possible to reverse the clock and project the same image that he had earlier despite the agony and rage strewn by the folding of his airline. There is something heroic about putting your chin up in the face of adversity but throwing the party of the year is just foolishness. It is the kind of hubris that makes a rich man open an airline and refuse to accept that it has flopped until it has taken everything he had and more.
The Indian public is usually very tolerant of those who abuse the system so long as there is subtlety in it. There are politicians whose true wealth if ever known might make them the richest Indians, and their names are not secret either. But they are smart enough to not come to Parliament in a Ferrari after landing at Delhi airport in a private jet that has their name emblazoned on it.
The breaking point often comes not because of the action involved, but the arrogance. In this, Mallya shares his fate with another man who took his own infallibility for granted. If RK Pachauri had had the wisdom to just disappear from public life for at least five years following sexual allegations he might not have been facing a chargesheet today. He stubbornly hung on in TERI, and it was when he decided it was time to assume control again and got himself promoted to executive vice chairman that the country’s attention returned to him. In December, Mallya threw a party in Goa to celebrate his 60th birthday with the good old obscene displays of wealth. He then opened the floodgates by getting a severance package of Rs 500 crore from another of his companies. It is puzzling that people like Mallya and Pachauri have so little understanding of the public temper around them. Perhaps it is because they do not regret the actions that got them into trouble and count every minute in exile as a sacrifice they do rather than a consequence of what they did. A year or two for them is a long time to erase memories. But it is not.