Kingfisher – A Shakespearean Comedy or Tragedy?
State Bank of India Chairman Pratip Chaudhuri took recourse to the Great Bard when asked about what the banks, who now own a substantial portion of the debt-hobbled airline Kingfisher Airlines, would do about its exposure.
“Much ado about nothing,” Chaudhuri said in response to the media frenzy, in a reference to the Shakespearean comedy about two pairs of lovers who are caught in a web of misunderstanding.
Even as he tries to make light of the situation, Chaudhuri, the largest lender to Kingfisher, has reason to be worried. He, himself, is fighting rising bad loans at his own bank and wouldn’t like Kingfisher to add to it.
As for UB Group Chairman Vijay Mallya, the eponymous King of Good Times, the unfolding events are more akin to a classic tragedy of the great bard.
Mallya, who has carefully cultivated his flamboyant persona, entered the aviation space to extend the visibility of his cash-cow liquor business. Liquor advertising is banned in India and firms often take recourse to surrogate advertising to promote their products.
Today, Mallya stands to lose his airline as also Kingfisher as an aviation brand.
The spate of flight cancellations at the onset of peak travel season has already hurt the image of the struggling carrier. Mallya’s press interaction Tuesday was aimed at clearing much of the negative air.
Unfortunately, there was nothing much new in what we already didn’t know. In places, Mallya contradicted what his own lenders had said. Clearly, if his tweets were anything to go by, he didn’t enjoy it much either.
“Spent 6 hours with the media today to share facts about Kingfisher Airlines. Was pushed, shoved and yelled at in a frenzy to get a byte”
“No lunch, no coffee, not a moments rest for 5 hours. Was virtually accosted by a frenzied media. Finally they started assaulting each other.”
Mallya, addressing the media, said he has asked banks for more working capital loans, adding that banks have not asked for more funds from the promoters. Just a day earlier, Hemant Contractor, a managing director at SBI, said banks have asked Mallya to bring in 8 billion rupees as equity.
The SBI official also said that Kingfisher Airlines had a proposal to sell real estate in Mumbai, which Mallya again denied.
Interestingly, Mallya was evasive on whether the founders would bring in more funds, just stressing that he had already invested 7.8 billion rupees in the current calendar year.
Mallya, through his tweets, has accused state governments of making windfall profits by taxing jet fuel, accused competitors of assuming their own viability based on the demise of Kingfisher and the government of raising security concerns on foreign investment while allowing expat CEOs to run carriers.
Clearly in this unfolding Shakespearean saga, there are many Don Johns for Mallya.