The liquor baron that all parties loved

Sukhbir Badal
There are few lives that describe the rags-to-riches cliché as aptly as the one Gurdeep Singh 'Ponty' Chadha led. Only the journey Ponty made — from selling snacks at his father's stall outside a liquor shop in Moradabad to becoming one of India's biggest liquor barons — was anything but usual.

The Chadha Group, now consolidated as Wave Inc., with interests in realty, liquor, power, sugar and paper, has a turnover of

Rs 2,500 crore today, according to the group's web site. Ponty was the best known face of the business empire which he owned along with his brothers Rajinder and Hardeep. Hardeep too died on Saturday, allegedly in a deadly shootout with Ponty.

After their father Kulwant Singh Chadha died, Rajinder and Hardeep looked at the family's sugar and paper businesses respectively, while Ponty focused on real estate. His foray into film distribution remained unsuccessful, but he was planning to expand his interests deeper into education — going beyond the residential Genesis Global School that the family runs in Noida.

In an interview given to The Indian Express in 2009, Ponty recalled his days of struggle, when he nearly died after receiving a powerful electric shock, had to leave school, and undergo several surgeries before fighting back.

"I was playing outside our home in Moradabad when I received a huge electric shock. I lost an arm, and was operated upon several times before I was discharged from hospital. My mother would worry about my future. Now, she proudly tells everyone that it is I who has secured the lives of my extended family by helping them establish their businesses," he said.

It was in the liquor trade that Ponty established his reputation as the businessman all political parties loved. At his daughter's wedding this February, both the Akali Dal's Sukhbir Badal and the Congress's Amarinder Singh were present, as were INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala and Ramgopal Yadav of the SP, whose party had allowed several concessions to Ponty's businesses when it was in power in UP before 2007.

Ponty was Mayawati's favourite businessman, whom her government made the sole wholesale distributor of liquor across Uttar Pradesh. There were whispers about him being the BSP's chief bagman, and allegations that he had been given a free hand in deciding the price of liquor. The real estate interests of the Chadhas got a boost under Mayawati, and many residential and commercial projects came up in Noida, Greater Noida and Ghaziabad. The family got two farmhouses in Noida under a controversial scheme — now under probe — begun by Mayawati's government.

Punjab was Ponty's other playground. As far back as in 1997, when the SAD-BJP was in power, he acquired a major stake in the liquor business in the state. In the Congress regime that followed, he made himself ubiquitous.

In February, income-tax officers raided Noida's Centrestage mall and 12 other premises owned by Ponty in the NCR, Delhi, Moradabad and Lucknow. Massive hype about the reported recovery of Rs 100 crore was followed by the embarrassing revelation that all that the I-T department found in a safe in the basement of the mall were two five-rupee coins and a large silver coin. There was widespread suspicion that Ponty had been tipped off about the coming raid.

It is relatively unknown that this shrewd businessman also ran a school for mentally and physically challenged children in Noida, established in memory of his grandmother Bhagwati Chadha.

"I have plans to expand the school to benefit more such children," Ponty had told The Indian Express in the 2009 interview.

On October 5, gunshots were reported from Ponty's ancestral home in Moradabad district, where a relative was reportedly trying out his new firearm. Saturday's shots in the Chhatarpur farmhouse turned out to be deadlier. The businessman who had always worked hard to keep a low profile could not ultimately be ignored, either in life or in death.

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