Why the good times couldn’t last
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Vijay Mallya, flamboyant owner of a liquor company and an airline, was, until recently, an icon to a section of India's youth. In a fast-track Indian economy, he represented a swashbuckling corporate hero whose lavish parties and high-flying lifestyle received a lot of press. His private jet, luxury yacht and vacation homes were the accoutrements many young Indians openly or secretly aspired to. His million-plus followers on Twitter offer a peep into his fan base, many who never met him but were mesmerised by his every word. The company tagline "King of good times" was, for once, not just a copywriter's clever turn of phrase but represented Mallya's personal, electrifying lifestyle.
But as recent events unfolded and Mallya hurtled from one public relations disaster to another, many watched with more than disappointment. The airline was crashing into bankruptcy, its debts mounting, rumours swirled about the shares of Mallya's companies being rigged and a non-bailable warrant was issued against him in a cheque bounce case. It soon became clear that this was not just another corporate stunt Mallya was attempting to pull off.
Mallya, now 56, was elected chairman of United Breweries at the age of 28 in 1983 following his father's demise. In a country minting millionaires, the silver-haired, diamond-dripping Mallya stood apart. In Bangalore, where his business is headquartered, he shares his family name with a hospital, a school and a prominent road. When complete, Kingfisher Towers (if it still retains that name) will be Bangalore's most sought-after residential address.
For young India, Mallya was one of two Bangalore corporate icons representing lessons in excess and thrift in new India. One, Infosys co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, is the self-made son of a school teacher. With his "compassionate capitalism" mantra, Murthy espoused new corporate ideals (such as employee shareholders and corporate transparency) and also practiced vastly different personal ethics. Murthy consistently topped surveys as a youth icon.