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President Trump, meet President Mallya :)

October 14, 2016 14:05 IST

Could Ambassador B S Prakash's nightmare turn real?
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

I woke up with a jolt from my slumber. In my dream Vijay Mallya had just unfurled the flag at the Republic Day parade in Delhi. He was India's President, of course, and the chief guest for Republic Day was his buddy, the President of the United States, Donald Trump. Having awakened fully, I wondered why this bizarre dream had come to me.

The previous day, I had seen on television how Donald had gloated about having shown a $900 million loss in his tax returns, thus saving nearly a billion, and not having to pay taxes for over a decade. 'I am smart and what America needs today is a smart leader,' he had gushed.

And after my nightly news fix on CNN, I had changed channels and seen a bit of the Kingfisher Models contest, and the winners with Mallya, bedecked in his gold chain and diamond ear stud.

You know how dreams get formed. By association, sometimes absurd. But as I thought about my pathetic imagination, something told me that the associations in my mind were not all that absurd.

A Presidential form of government in India? Not an absurd idea; in fact from time to time, people have rooted for it. It can be argued that what we have in reality now comes close to it, not in form but in substance.

Many, and I am certainly one of the many, believe that what we need is a strong man (or woman) who runs things; not all this majority-minority-coalition nonsense. Also, just think of how simple our politics will be if Modi can run for President against... well, who?

Trump as Republic Day guest? Certainly, in the realm of possibility. We shall know soon enough, if he is changing houses from the opulent penthouse in Trump Towers in New York to a more modest home on 1600, Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.

That leaves Mallya as the stuff of dreams or more accurately, nightmares. But let us look at his credentials and compare them with Trump. The similarities are striking.

To start with, both inherited empires from their daddies. Real estate business in Trump's case; liquor in Mallya's case. Both require above all acquiring and manipulating licences, cajoling or arm-twisting politicians, using 'muscle' occasionally, hobnobbing with wheelers and dealers, and in general shady activities of this nature.

I am not a specialist, but something tells me that succeeding in the real estate business in New York and Chicago and growing a liquor business in Bangalore requires similar skills. It is all about 'The Art of the Deal,' as the bestseller book, ghostwritten for Trump, proclaimed.

Both Trump and Mallya were not satisfied with one business, however profitable their 'losses' were. They had to expand, conquer new territories, flaunt other flags.

Trump acquired dream properties, developed casinos and golf resorts, became a television star, and revelled in barking 'You are fired' onm The Apprentice. Not satisfied, he also rejoiced in humiliating Miss Universes crowned under his own franchise.

All possible objects of lust or desire are named after him from champagne to cigars. He, of course, travels in his own humungous plane, modestly named after him, puts on his own greens, and sleeps in his own bed, these days possibly with one of his own wives, though this was not the case earlier.

Do you now see the parallels with Mallya? Admittedly, Mallya's role model was not Trump, as far as I know, but that other buccaneer from Britain, Richard Branson, no less. Not for nothing did the British colonise us. Our impulses and dreams, even Mallya's, are still first rooted in London rather than New York!

Mallya too expanded his business from frothy beer to real estate, franchises, opulent homes in exotic locales -- San Fransico and Cape Town as I know from my personal knowledge as a diplomat -- and yes, beauty pageants.

He too revelled in being photo-splashed with beautiful girls -- brunettes and not blondes in this case -- draped on his arms, or winning race horses besides him. But not being satisfied with being the 'King of Good Times,' he had to fly high, own not just a plane, but an entire airline that has brought him down.

In short, Trump and Mallya are both 'Brands.' They have sold themselves till they became bankrupt, but bankruptcy these days is a badge of honour.

The logic of my dream-comparison does not end here. Like Trump, Mallya too was not satisfied with all his business success, or should we say 'declared failures' that added to his stash. He had to join politics.

Why? Political power is perhaps a different kind of aphrodisiac -- 10 MPs asking you for a ride in your personal plane from Bangalore to Delhi is perhaps more alluring than 10 Miss India contestants joining you for a ride from Mumbai to Goa; having an 18 rupee dal-roti meal in the Parliament canteen is perhaps tastier than an 8,000 rupee meal at the Taj -- who knows?

Thanks to H D Kumaraswamy, the not so humble son of the humble H D Deve Gowda, Vijay Mallya too fulfilled his ambition of being a politician, though as a mere MP. Americans are richer and greedier. Trump is aiming for the biggest prize, the American Presidency.

Somehow, the trajectories of the two are different right now. Mallya, as we know, is in some trouble, though looking at him cavorting in London, you would never know. He is likely to bounce back in some form, though his political life may be over. But you never know. Ask Amar Singh.

As for Trump, his star is rising, though it is safe to bet that he too will have a dive, whether as President or as a citizen. Such rollercoaster rides are integral to their personality and their story.

Which brings us finally to a question that continues to puzzle me. We know already that business is a lot of politics. But why do we believe that politics is not business?

What is the difference between a President or a PM and the CEO of a large corporation? Is there a difference between running (or running to ground) a corporate empire and a nation?

Here is Trump, proclaiming day after day, that there is no difference. Vague and woolly words like 'welfare,' 'justice,' 'development,' 'equity' keep cropping up -- neither Trump nor Mallya understand them. Do you?

B S Prakash is a former Ambassador and a long-standing columnist.
You can read Ambassador Prakash's earlier columns here.

B S Prakash