London: Declared a proclaimed offender in a money laundering case and wanted in India, business tycoon Vijay Mallya was spotted at a book launch event at the London School of Economics this week that was attended by Indian High Commissioner Navtej Sarna, causing flutters back home.
Social media was in a frenzy after it emerged that Sarna, who was one of the special guests at the event on Thursday evening to mark the launch of socialite Suhel Seth's new book, was also present at the event when the business tycoon arrived.
As television news channels showed pictures of Sarna and Mallya in the hall where the event was held, questions were raised over the presence of the high commissioner at an event where a personality wanted by enforcement agencies in India was also present.
While Suhel Seth contended that it was an open event at the LSE, where anyone could come because of the open invitation, Mallya was not invited to the high commission reception nor was he present.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) also got into the act when it issued a statement, saying Sarna left the event without waiting for the interactive session after he spotted Mallya.
"When the High Commissioner spotted Mallya in the audience he left the stage and venue immediately after making his comments and without waiting for the interactive session," the MEA said in the statement.
The MEA said, "there were two clear segments - the book launch by UK Minister Jo Johnson and discussion at LSE and later a reception at the High Commission for select guests.
"The list of invitations for the LSE event was determined by LSE. They have written to the High Commissioner that Mallya was not on their list. They have also said that the event was advertised widely through social media and attendees were not required to register in advance.
"Mallya was certainly not an invitee to the reception at the High Commission for which the invitations were issued by the High Commission, and was not present." Seth took to Twitter to also stress that Mallya was not an invited guest at the event, which was an event open to anyone who wanted to attend.
He tweeted: "About @TheVijayMallya at my book launch. It was an open @SAsiaLSE & advertised on Twitter. No specific invitations. Anyone could attend." "Upon realising that @TheVijayMallya was in the audience as any other person, @NavtejSarna left before the Q&A expressing displeasure."
"The High Commissioner upon seeing Mallya walk in actually at the mid of the event, got up and left. To say he rubbed shoulder or he met Mallya is incorrect," Seth said.
The event to release Seth's book Mantras for Success: India's Greatest CEOs Tell You How to Win was organised by the 100 Foot Journey Club, set up as a collaboration between the Indian High Commission and LSE last month as a forum to discuss and debate issues of contemporary relevance within the India-UK sphere.
The club had been launched in May with a talk at LSE on Rethinking the Global Monetary System by RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan.