13 DECEMBER 2018
Friends for polls
The Congress may have won this round of elections, but it needs more allies
Post-poll alliances between parties, shaped as they are by intractable realities, are easier to form than pre-poll alliances that have to reconcile competing expectations of the prospective partners. Soon after the results of the Assembly elections were out, the Bahujan Samaj Party, which had played hard-to-get with the Congress in pre-election alliance talks, announced its support to the party in both Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The Congress is just short of a majority in these two States, and the BSP’s support was more than welcome. But the Congress leadership may now well pause to consider the huge number of seats that would have been reaped if a pre-poll tie-up with the BSP had materialised, especially in M.P. With 5% of the total vote, the BSP won only two seats; but a pre-poll alliance would have delivered a total of 143 seats for the two parties in the 230-member House. In the first-past-the-post electoral system, a seat-sharing arrangement, though difficult to realise, holds more benefits than a post-poll understanding. Both the Congress and the BSP may therefore be tempted to think ahead on seat adjustments for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls to beat back the BJP’s challenge. For the BSP, the stakes are higher in Uttar Pradesh than in the rest of the Hindi belt. The BSP’s reasoning would be that in M.P., Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the Congress needs it more than it needs the Congress. It is for the senior partner with higher stakes to be more accommodative to a junior partner that has nothing to lose and little to gain.
In Chhattisgarh, where a huge swing away from the BJP enabled the Congress to win a two-thirds majority, an alliance may seem unnecessary. But the third front of the BSP and Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh got more than 11% of the vote. Given this, the Congress may have to forestall any attempt by Mr. Jogi to link hands with the BJP. In the Lok Sabha election, it will be critical for the Congress to maximise the yield from M.P. and Rajasthan, both big States, in order to squeeze the BJP at the national level; it may not be enough to just nose ahead as it did in the Assembly elections. If it has learnt from its experience in the Gujarat election last year, the Congress may be persuaded to be more accommodative to prospective partners in the other States where it is in direct contest with the BJP. Every victory not only adds to its own tally, but also denies the BJP. The Congress lost Gujarat despite its alliances, and it won Chhattisgarh, M.P. and Rajasthan without any major allies. But the lesson is that it will have to repeat Gujarat, where it adopted a good strategy, and not Chhattisgarh, where it deployed indifferent tactics
By fleeing India, Vijay Mallya has only helped establish the charges against him
The judicial order in the United Kingdom allowing the extradition of businessman Vijay Mallya marks a rare victory for India in getting back a fugitive from the law from another jurisdiction. Coming shortly after the United Arab Emirates handed over Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal, progress in the Mallya extradition case is another victory for the Central Bureau of Investigation, which is in the throes of a raging controversy over a power tussle involving its two top officers. It must be a matter of satisfaction to the Government of India that the controversy did not affect the outcome of the extradition proceedings before the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London. Mr. Mallya’s lawyers raised doubts about the CBI’s independence, its alleged susceptibility to political interference, the perception that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Opposition Congress were using his case to score political points, the possible pressure on Indian courts due to adverse media coverage and, lastly, the conditions in Indian prisons as overcrowded and with appalling facilities for its inmates. Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot rejected these issues. On preliminary evidence, in an order that analyses documents and the sequence of events relating to borrowings made by Kingfisher Airlines from IDBI Bank, she concluded that there is a prima facie case against Mr. Mallya as well as some bank officials. The industrialist does have an opportunity to go on appeal before higher courts. But the categorical finding that there appears to be an intention to defraud, and that the end-use of the borrowed money did not match the stated purpose for which the loans were taken, may make it a little harder for him to obtain relief.
It is clear that fleeing India in March 2016 while a consortium of lenders to the defunct airline was seeking to recover about Rs. 9,000 crore from the company has not helped Mr. Mallya’s cause, beyond buying him time. He has failed to portray himself as a victim of the political system and the media back home. And the verdict, by which his case has been sent to the U.K. Home Secretary for a formal decision on his extradition, reinforces the widely held perception that his company’s financial predicament is due less to the problems that beset the aviation sector at the relevant time and possible poor management, than to his profligate ways and flamboyant lifestyle. In particular, the extradition court accepted evidence that showed that “the offence may have begun with the obtaining of the loans, but continued with the disbursement of the loan proceedings and his subsequent avoidance of his liabilities”. With the court also having spoken of a prima facie case of money-laundering being established, Mr. Mallya’s attempt to play victim has failed. It is only appropriate that he be brought back to India at the earliest and made to submit himself to the legal process.