On February 28, liquor baron Vijay Mallya made his last public appearance in Delhi before he flew out of India. At a plush private hotel in the heart of Delhi, Mallya delivered a speech at the annual prize distribution event of Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI), a body he chairs.
Before the event started, a strange isolation had already gripped the man. Many invitees spotted him standing at the corner of the bar, sipping a drink (not produced by his United Breweries Group) as he preferred to stay away from the crowd.
It was the same Vijay Mallya who, in 2012, was in much demand as a vote was due in Rajya Sabha on December 2 after a debate on the government’s policy to allow FDI in multi-brand retail. The UPA was in acute minority and it was scrambling to garner support in the prestige fight.
Mallya didn’t disappoint. “Barely an hour before the voting started, we saw Vijay Mallya walking in. He looked tired. And he said that had just flown down from London,” remembers a Left leader in the Upper House.
As the voting ended with UPA’s victory, Mallya walked out of Rajya Sabha with a smile. A luxury sedan was waiting for him in front of gate. Mallya drove back to the airport—to catch the return flight to London.
Many MPs remember how Mallya would spend time at Parliament’s Central Hall chatting with other MPs, also enquiring if anyone needs to take a flight to Mumbai or Bangalore or Kolkata. He would then directly call his office to book their tickets. MPs are entitled to full fare tickets which are much pricier than the promotional fares aimed to attract the aam aadmi. The businessman would not lose the chance to earn some extra bucks for his flashy airlines.
Debabrat Biswas, the then Forward Bloc MP of Rajya Sabha, was a recipient of a different kind of gift from Mallya. Like all his Rajya Sabha colleagues, Mallya sent a gift-wrapped Kingfisher calendar to Biswas as well. The comrade didn’t know what to do. He certainly couldn’t display it in his office-cum-residence where revolutionary ideas and Netaji Subhas Bose’s ideals are staple diet. “Returning the gift would be improper. And I can’t even think of anyone whom I can pass it on as gift!” a journalist remembers Biswas saying.
A few years later, on a cold winter night, Vijay Mallya stood outside a minister’s residential office. This time to desperately seek some ‘help’ for his ailing Kingfisher airlines. An aide of the minister still remembers Mallya holding a note in hand and waiting for other visitors to go, so that he can talk at length.
Meanwhile, two journalists, also waiting to meet the minister for news, tried to interact with Mallya. And to their surprise, Mallya was game for a freewheeling chat on everything—except his business. In fluent Bengali, the Kingfisher promoter spoke at length about football in Kolkata and how he became the first person to sponsor both Mohan Bagan and East Bengal clubs—the arch rivals—simultaneously.
Finally Mallya met the minister but as he came out of his chamber, his face could not betray a sense of dejection. His car zoomed into the darkness of Lutyen’s Delhi, or, may be into a dark phase of his life.