It was high drama at Mumbai airport Saturday when the former chairman of Jet Airways Naresh Goyal and his wife Anita Goyal were denied permission to travel abroad.
Not only had they cleared Customs and Immigration but according to reports EK 507 to Dubai had pushed back and was trundling to the runway when it was called back to the parking bay and Goyal and his wife were offloaded and so were their four suitcases. It is believed they were connecting to London and had boarded the aircraft as any normal passengers without let or hindrance.
According to one source, the recall decision was made in a movie-like fashion because in another couple of minutes the flight would have been airborne when Immigration realised there was a 'lookout' notification for Naresh Goyal. It is not clear if his wife volunteered to get off in support of her husband or whether she was also on the no-fly list.
Clearly, the orders must have come from much higher up and one could hazard a guess that two days after the election result in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the nation by storm, the optics of witnessing the 'escape' of Goyal to join the likes of Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi in self-exile in the UK would have gone done very poorly with the public.
The Opposition or what is left of it would have had a heyday as would have the media. Especially with a debt of $1.7 billion hanging over his head it would have looked like he had been aided and abetted by the authorities to 'escape.'
The part that is difficult to understand is the need for the grandstanding high drama. A lookout circular is usually issued when a wanted individual goes into hiding. Goyal and his wife drove to the airport, checked in their baggage, got their boarding passes, passed through Immigration and customs and security waited in the lounge, had refreshments and when boarding was announced, joined the throng. Instantly recognisable not just to other passengers but to a majority of the hundreds of workers at various levels at the airport it stands to reason Goyal was not underground or below the radar seeing as how he was boarding a scheduled commercial flight and not a private jet.
If there is a political motive that finally becomes transparent, it would be that an order was given to offload him to send out the message of non-corruptibility that is one of the cornerstones of the Modi government. Short of that, there was no reason to treat him like a fugitive since after the collapse of Jet Airways he has been actively participating in its dissolution and rescue bids, even bidding himself for a share.
With 200 aircraft on the Jet fleet grounded and its unpaid pilots and ground and cabin crews and management all in the running for jobs and finding very few vacancies, the rage against him was palpable. But that was a mutually exclusive situation from shaming him at the airport seeing as how Jet Airways staff association President Kiran Pawaskar had written to the Commissioner of Police days ago stating that the passports of Naresh Goyal and his wife Anita in her capacity as a stockholder be impounded because salaries had not been paid for several months.
In the light of this Goyal could have been officially or legally advised to stay at home and not travel abroad instead of delaying a foreign carrier and inconveniencing passengers.
Ironically, both business baron Vijay Mallya and diamond merchant Nirav Modi both away from India in much the same manner indicating that the 'lookout' circular system clearly does not work well or is predicated to the last minute decision from the corridors of power...to go or not to go.