Mehul Choksi has apparently got a citizenship in the Caribbean tax haven of Antigua. Which of the lynch mob victims ever had that option?
Mohammad Akhlaq. Pehlu Khan. Rakbar Khan. Nilotpal Das. Abhijit Nath. Hafiz Junaid. Rukmani.
Victims of lynching, these names are part of a roll call of infamy in India – whether rumoured to be cattle-snatchers, beef eaters or child traffickers.
Now, the super-rich are also feeling their pain.
Cue the violins. Bank-fraud accused diamond merchant Mehul Choksi moved a court in Mumbai seeking cancellation of non-bailable warrants against him. He cited the “growing trend of lynchings in India” and said he feared for his life if forced to return.
No wonder, Choksi is an entrepreneur. He knows how to turn a national tragedy to his advantage, strike while the lynch mobs are hot, front-page news and a topic of debate in Parliament.
That he ferries diamonds not cows is just a matter of minor detail. It’s precious cargo after all.
For the super-rich in India everything is fair game, everything can be bent to their advantage.
When the Indian government wanted to extradite Vijay Mallya, his defence team told the UK court that overcrowded Indian jails and their lack of hygiene would be a breach of Mallya’s human rights. After all, the ‘King of Good Times’ could not be allowed to have a bad time, even in jail. The other grouse is that he would be subjected to a media trial.
This is a tried and tested strategy.
Bookie Sanjeev Chawla was discharged on human rights grounds when experts said Tihar jail “suffered overcrowding, poor conditions, violence and ill treatment”. The court brought up intra-prisoner violence, access to medical help and also “whether toilet facilities will be shared, and if so what those facilities will be”.
One of the British sailors, part of the so-called Chennai Six who were arrested on Indian waters while carrying armaments, testified about open defecation, rats, cockroaches and snakes.
Sometimes you would think they were discussing TripAdvisor reviews for the ‘Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ as opposed to prison.
Apparently, this will be the same line of defence used by Nirav Modi, also accused of money laundering and fraud. His counsel has said, “If one gets to know that there will be unbiased investigation without any media trial, you can expect his presence.” There were reports that he would seek political asylum in the UK saying he fears persecution in India.
Advocate Manuraj Shunmugasundaram and barrister-at-law Muthupandi Ganesan write that India’s refusal to ratify the UN convention against torture and other inhuman, cruel or degrading punishments is the loophole through which the likes of Mallya and Chawla can escape extradition. One way to get around it has been to offer a special deal that would house the likes of a Mallya separately as was done by Kenya for businessman Yagnesh Devani.
There’s no doubt that India needs prison reform, and that the jail conditions can be abysmal. We’ve all seen Sacred Games. But it also goes to underscore yet again that the super-rich feel that they exist outside the law, and that they can be accused of embezzlement to the tune of crores but the law and overcrowded jails with rats and cockroaches are for the aam aadmi, not them. And even if they do go to jail, like a Sanjay Dutt, entire bechara rich boy biopics are made so we can be aghast at how they survived blocked toilets and flies in their food.
Sushma Swaraj has bristled at this badnaami of Indian jails. She reminded the Brits that these were the same jails in which they had once imprisoned Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. (Finally, Nehru proves of some possible use to the current government). But that’s not likely to shame the Brits into handing over anyone. Despite an extradition treaty signed in 1992, only one person had been handed over successfully.
It’s not surprising that the fat cats who can access high-powered law firms will use every loophole available to evade the arm of the law. But Mehul Choksi marks a new low as he tries to piggyback on the suffering of some of the most hapless people in India.
These are poor farmers trying to evade extortionists and hooligans working under the cover of gau raksha. These are people for whom being seen with a cow is license to kill and maim. These are people who get lynched and then those accused of lynching them get garlanded by a minister when they get out on bail. These are people whose main crime is they cannot speak the language of the village they are in, and that they are strangers in the area. Or, that they are seen talking to children even as rumours of child-lifters spread on WhatsApp. They are killed on highways and country roads and crowded trains.
Choksi, on the other hand, flew out of the country on a jet plane even as accusations of defrauding the Punjab National Bank to the tune of $2 billion came to light. It’s one thing for a sense of entitlement to assume that laws, queues, income tax regulations, jail facilities do not apply to them, that their wealth entitles them to a deluxe version of everything. It’s another thing that Choksi now wants to shamelessly use the deaths and broken limbs of lynching victims to get a warrant cancelled against him. That is downright obscene.
It is just naked proof yet again of the arrogance of the entitled class. It makes a mockery of the Una flogging victims, the Hyderabad-based software engineer beaten up for offering chocolates to children, and the police officer on duty in Srinagar, using their plight to evade justice.
Choksi, the man afraid of lynch mobs in India, has apparently got himself a citizenship in the Caribbean tax haven of Antigua. Which of these lynch mob victims that Choksi’s heart is bleeding for right now have ever had that option?
Sandip Roy is a journalist, commentator and author.