Manmohan, Congress rebut BJP allegations of aiding Mallya

With elections to the Punjab Assembly just three days away, a political slugfest erupted on Monday between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress over linking former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh with absconding liquor baron and Kingfisher Airlines chairman Vijay Mallya.

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra quoted from purported letters written by Mallya to Singh in which he had sought his intervention and subsequent to which his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines allegedly received loans. The allegations were vehemently rejected by the Congress as well as by Dr Singh.

Dragging the top Congress leadership into the row, Patra alleged that the then principal secretary to the Prime Minister Pulok Chatterjee would ''snatch files'' from Dr Singh to take them to 10 Janpath, Sonia Gandhi's residence. ''The hands which pulled the strings to ensure that Mallya received loans are visible now. They belonged to Chidambaram and Singh,'' he said. In one of the letters, Mallya said that he was very ''relieved'' and ''pleased'', apparently referring to developments in the interim, according to Patra.

But the former PM dismissed this correspondence as nothing but ordinary representation that anyone in the government would have dealt with. He said as the PM, he used to get a great many representations and he would routinely pass on them to the appropriate authorities, adding that anyone in his position would have done the same.

The Congress also reacted sharply, firing six questions at the BJP, asking whose government had permitted Mallya to escape from India swallowing up public sector banks' money, who had waived his loan of Rs1,200 crore, who had brought him to the Rajya Sabha and why had no action been taken on the millions he earned in offshore accounts.

On Monday morning, BJP spokesman Patra had said it was after one such letter Mallya had written to Singh on 14 November 2011 that he told the media that ''we have to find ways to get Kingfisher out of trouble''. In another letter, he sought Singh's intervention to get funds from banks released immediately, the BJP leader claimed.

Patra further alleged that a top PMO official had spoken to ministries concerned following his letter to Singh and Mallya had mentioned it. He also cited another letter in which Mallya allegedly wrote to Chidambaram in March 2013, seeking his intervention to get a 'no objection certificate' from the State Bank of India, which headed the consortium of banks, which had given unrecovered loans to the airline, and its subsidiaries as his liquor company was in talks with Diageo for a deal.

Reacting to the BJP's charges, former finance minister P Chidambaram said the government receives hundreds of representations each day and no minister deals with them as they go down to the officials concerned. Reacting to a question by a reporter on the 2013 letter, Chidambaram said the letter being referred to was not for bank loans but for the NOC (no-objection certificate) of preferential allotments of shares. As regards the loans given in 2009 to Mallya, Chidambaram corrected the reporter saying that he was not the finance minister then.

Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala asked why Mallya was not arrested by the current government after he was interrogated by the Enforcement Directorate and also when action was initiated by the Security Exchange Board of India and the Serious Fraud Investigation Office.

Surjiwala alleged that a much worse dereliction of duty was that in the interregnum period, Mallya has received substantial payments in India and abroad, like the 'Diageo plc' i.e. a British multinational alcoholic breweries company with headquarters in London, paying a sum of $40 million to the liquor baron as part of an agreement in February, 2016.

''All money transactions have taken place unchecked while the hard earned money of Indian people extended through a consortium of banks to the extent of Rs 9,091 crore has not been repaid,'' said the Congress spokesperson.