Finally, loan defaulter Vijay Mallya gets arrested by Scotland Yard personnel in London on Tuesday (April 18). The business mogul, who had fled the country in March last year, was set to be presented before the Westminster Magistrates' Court to be booked.
Now, it is for the law to determine what lies ahead for the beleaguered tycoon but for the Narendra Modi government, this development comes as a massive boost to its anti-corruption stand and at the same time, it renders the Opposition toothless.
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PM Modi, who has so far given blotless governance unlike his predecessor Manmohan Singh, was facing criticism from various quarters over the Mallya case. Although the BJP-led government at the Centre had said time and again that Mallya, who is facing a loan default case of over Rs 9,400 crore, was granted the loan by the previous UPA government, the Opposition did not leave any stone unturned to raise its attack against Modi after his departure.
For Modi's clean government, Mallya was the only blot
Since there was no corruption-related case against any government official, the Opposition found in Mallya's escape a weapon to target Modi and mocked his 'superman' image. There was a cry after reports said the government had waived Mallya's loan though other reports suggested that it was a write-off and not technically a waiver. Opposition parties like the Congress were not convinced, however, and its vice-president Rahul Gandhi asked Modi ahead of the UP polls this year to target Mallya and not the poor farmers.
It was indeed a prestige issue for Modi. For a man who has always focused on anti-corruption plank to corner the UPA and proudly proclaimed during his run-up to the throne in Delhi ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Mallya episode was a thorn in the flesh.
After Mallya's arrest, Modi's "chowkidaar" image will get a boost
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Modi had said in a rally in Jhansi ahead of the general elections: "Aap mujhe pradhanmantri mat banaiye! Aap mujhe chowkidar banaiye. Mein dilli ja kar ke mein chowkidar ki tarah baithunga. Mein hindustan ki tijori par koi panja nahi parne dunga!" [don't make me the prime minister but a security guard! I will sit in Delhi as a security guard and will not allow anybody to steal money from India's coffers!]
On another occasion, he had said: "Na Khaoonga, na khaane doonga!" [Neither will I myself indulge in corruption nor will allow anybody to].
All these claims needed to be backed with action but Mallya's departure sent across the message that even Modi is "helpless" to tame the corrupt. Just like his promise to bring the money stashed in Swiss accounts failed to see the daylight, the public sensed that the anti-corruption slogans were too hollow. Modi himself might not be corrupt but he is not able to punish the corrupt either. In a country where politics is all about perception, this was a low point in Modi's about-to-touch-three-years of premiership.
The Congress will find it more difficult to target Modi
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But with Mallya's arrest [the backchannel talks between India and UK played a big role in this], things are bound to turn around and the Opposition would lose more teeth to take on the Modi government on the question of corruption. The Congress will particularly find it difficult to defend itself against the BJP now for most of the Mallya drama was played out when its government was in power.
The development will also send strong signal to other defaulters
Mallya's arrest will also send a strong signal to other similar defaulters and could also see a transformation in India's banking rules. Former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan had warned the Modi government on granting bad loans [his target was Mallya] and that they could seriously hurt the economy if corrective measures are not taken.
The post-demonetisation period has seen the Modi government taking the banking sector seriously with an eye to curb on corrupt practices. With the law catching hold of Mallya now, the issue of corporate defaulters escaping law with ease could also be next on Modi's agenda.
Modi has lived up to his expectations as the chowkidaar, albeit late. For the opponents, it is another loss of face.
Latest reports said Mallya got bail hours after his arrest and the cynicism was making its way back to the popular space. But even if the baron got a bail, it can't be denied that the effort is on on behalf of the Modi government to nail the man. After all, the 'long hands' of law do not always reach the rich and the influential in this world.