Indira Gandhi’s penchant for issuing ordinances instead of the long-drawn legislative route to enact laws earned her the reputation of ‘governance by ordinance’ in the 1970s. The current overweening focus of the Narendra Modi government on spin and perception management has attracted it the sobriquet of ‘governance by headlines’.
The short answer to the question in the headline is no, Vijay Mallya is unlikely to return to India anytime soon, contrary to the BJP’s desire to present him as a trophy before the May 2019 elections. The long-drawn legal process involved in extradition laws ensures that he will have recourse to appeals even if the Westminster Magistrates Court clears his extradition on December 10. The judgment is due on that day, but could well be postponed to early next year, after the Christmas-New Year break due to case overload in the court.
But BJP spin doctors will be hoping that even if Mallya is not extradited in person by May 2019, the judge clearing his extradition itself will be enough to unleash headlines that will serve the purpose just fine before the elections: a case of politics trumping over economics. Never mind the the recovery of multi-crore loans, the appeals process and other hoops that need to be crossed before eventual extradition. It is also of no consequence in the cut-and-thrust of politics that even after courts cleared Tiger Hanif’s extradition, and he lost appeals in 2013, the home secretary – who has the final say – has still not signed off on his journey back home to face justice in a 1993 Gujarat bomb blast case.
Mallya and his witnesses in the trial have often mentioned that he is the focus more of politics than attempts to recover loans: “I respectfully say that I have made and continue to make every effort, in good faith to settle with the Public Sector Banks. If political motivated extraneous factors interfere, there is nothing that I can do”.
He wrote in a letter to Modi: “I have become the ‘poster boy’ of bank default and a lightning rod of public anger…I have also become a political pawn about whom politicians across party lines make reference to in public statements to ether influence the electorate or set an example before several other industrialists whose companies are facing financial stress”.
Whether Mallya’s case feeds into the ‘governance by headlines’ paradigm back home remains to be seen, but New Delhi’s focus on the case has led to some improvement in official responses and correspondence while dealing with extradition cases in British courts. This is significant in the context of the poor record of securing extraditions since the India-UK treaty was signed in 1992. Hand-written FIRs or documents of poor evidence value submitted in previous cases don’t exactly make the cut in British courts. There has been no high-profile extradition from the UK to India so far.
In Mallya’s case, thousands of pages of documents have been submitted in court; most them needed to be carted in trolleys at every hearing. Officials from India attended every hearing since the trial began in December 2017, sensitising them to the technicalities and requirements in British courts. Every document, material or assurance sought by the judge in the case has been produced and submitted. Reports say that one joint secretary in a key ministry in New Delhi was removed when there was delay in submitting a document required in the court.
The Mallya case is seen as a learning exercise for Indian officialdom, but whether other cases would be pursued with similar focus remains to be seen. Another high-profile extradition case likely to begin soon is that of Nirav Modi, who will be arrested and bailed after the home secretary certifies India’s request to extradite him.
Less high-profile cases are also going through courts. Extradition proceedings have begun in the Westminster Magistrates Court against two Indian citizens – Lokendra Sharma and Kishan Singh – who were arrested recently for offences related to drugs and domestic violence. Sharma and Singh are among 18 extradition requests pending in London, including those of Mallya and Modi. A judgement is also expected year on India’s appeal in the high court against the magistrates court’s ruling in October 2017, turning down the request to extradite alleged cricket bookie Sanjeev Chawla face trial for his role in match-fixing during South Africa’s tour of India in 2000.
Other pending extradition cases are those of Rajesh Kapoor and Seema Kapoor, Tiger Hanif, Shaikh Sadiq, Pavilose Fernandez, Rishikesh Surendra Kardile, Chandan Sharma, Patrick Charles Bowring, Palaniappan Rajaratinam, Kartik Venugopal, S Balakrishnan, Ritika Avasty, Kavaljit Sinh Mahendra Singh Raijada and Arti Dhir, and Raj Kumar Patel.