Gurdeep Singh Chadha, better known as Ponty Chadha, never made a secret of the fact that he built his business empire on the back of his connections with politicians and bureaucrats across north India. So after he died in a blaze of gunfire in a shootout with his brother Hardeep, it is not surprising that every day the police comes out with new theories—that rivals got them bumped off, that the guards were paid to shoot Ponty, that the ballistic reports don’t add up and so on. The police are also examining the role of Sukhdev Singh Namdhari, head of the Uttarakhand minorities commission, who was present during the incident and who has since then been sacked. Namdhari was reportedly appointed through Ponty’s influence. The police suspect that he, along with some of Ponty’s rivals in the liquor trade, may have been instrumental in planning the shootout, calling the brothers to the farmhouse for a settlement of a lingering property feud between them.
At the heart of the bloody death in the Chhattarpur farmhouse on the outskirts of Delhi is the fact that Ponty was a master in the art of multiplying money overnight. His interests ranged from liquor retail, real estate, sugar, paper, films and entertainment. His empire, better known as the Wave Group, is conservatively valued at Rs 6,000 crore. Chadha’s brothers, sons and a grandson run parts of the empire, but it is Ponty’s networking skills that kept the group ahead. Having established his exclusive sway over the liquor trade across Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Haryana, he chose to enter a completely different one—that of supplying ‘panjeeri’ (ready-to-eat whole wheat food supplement) for distribution to poor children in government schools. Today, this segment alone is said to be worth Rs 9,000 crore—a figure incredibly close to UP’s liquor trade, valued at about Rs 12,000 crore.
|Brothers Gurdeep (Ponty) and Hardeep (right) died in a big gunfight at a Delhi farmhouse they both wanted to keep.
Ponty found Uttar Pradesh to be the ideal ground for his exploits, not merely because of how pliable the bureaucrats were, but also because of the enormous volumes of business. The 55-year-old, who had lost one arm and also two fingers on his other hand in an accident, never allowed his handicap to come in his way. He reportedly even carried a gun that was specially designed for him.
No change of government made any difference to his clout. An upright Uttar Pradesh bureaucrat, who has seen Ponty’s modus operandi from close quarters during both Mayawati’s and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s tenures as chief ministers, says, “Ponty Chadha had emerged like a super government: he could own anything he laid his hands on. The Mayawati government went to the extent of doling out huge chunks of prime land along NH-24, where he carved out two prime Noida sectors under the banner of Wave City that helped him reap a rich harvest.”
Ponty’s meteoric rise completely overshadowed his humble beginnings. His father Kulwant Singh began by selling fried fish from a hand-cart parked outside a country-made liquor shop in Peeru-Madara town, located between Ramnagar and Moradabad. Way back in the 1980s, a Garhwal-based journalist called Umesh Dobhal was bumped off for running a campaign against the clandestine sale of liquor in the hills, where it was prohibited. Ponty was even accused of adulterating a popular Ayurvedic tonic with alcohol to work around prohibition laws.
At least a dozen prominent politicians of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, along with an equal number of IAS officers from the two states, have reportedly invested their ill-gotten wealth in Ponty’s companies. With his death, their biggest worry now is to retrieve their money.
By Sharat Pradhan with Chandrani Banerjee