By Alka Pande
Ponty Chaddha’s was a rags to riches story, but not of the inspirational kind. If it ended abruptly with a bang – he was shot dead by his brother – maybe that’s how it was supposed to end.
His father sold fish snacks in front of a liquor shop in Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh. Ponty, real name Gurdeep Singh Chaddha, went on to become one of the largest players in the liquor business in the state and beyond it. His business empire, the Wave Group, was worth Rs 8,000 crore when he died. His business interests spread over several areas – distilleries, multiplexes, sugar and paper mills, real estate, poultry and films.
And the path he took to reach up there was never, as many acquainted with him would say, clean. And his association with politicians helped.
“He started his career with a crusher. Meanwhile, he was getting petty contracts from the Public Works Department for construction of small bridges and roads,’’ said an industrialist familiar with Ponty. “He was working with a liquor businessman in Punjab. During an official visit to Uttarakhand Ponty started buying sand contracts and he gradually entered the liquor business in the state,” said another.
His business in Uttar Pradesh expanded after the Samajwadi Party came to power with Amar Singh calling the shots. Ponty bought huge chunks of land in early 2000 and started his Wave Cinema, the first multiplexes in Lucknow and Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh. He was known for his proximity with Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh.
However, his liquor business expanded in Uttar Pradesh after Mayawati came to power in 2007. Mayawati changed the excise policy to favour Chaddha. Contrary to earlier policy of open auction for liquor shops Mayawati government decided to hand over the auction work to Sugar Federation which eventually sublet the job to Ponty’s company Blue Water.
Interestingly, Akhilesh Yadav, after becoming the Chief Minister early this year, brought huge changes in the bureaucracy and changed almost all of Mayawati’s policies. But the government neither shifted the Excise Commissioner (till date) nor changed the auction policy brought in by the Mayawati government.
Ponty’s power in the liquor sector could be gauged from the fact that he called the shots in the appointment of excise commissioners and other important postings related to it. Also, the Mayawati government sold off all cooperative sugar mills to Ponty at throwaway prices. Before coming to power, the Samajwadi Party claimed that it would probe into the matter but till a month ago the Akhilesh government was shying away from any inquiry. A week ago, after pressure from the opposition, the government gave the inquiry to Lokayukta.
Ponty had huge properties in Delhi, NCR and Uttar Pradesh and his companies have been raided several times by Income Tax authorities. However, he always escaped with a mild rap on the wrists. He was well-networked – he worked hard to cultivate relations with people who mattered – and it showed in his success.
When he was killed by his brother at a farmhouse in Delhi – the brother was also shot dead in the incident – it was probably something waiting to happen. The challenge to his powers could not have come from outside, it had to come from inside. The property battle at home was too intense and it claimed his life.