Meteoric rise meets a bloody end

Pankaj Jaiswal

Lucknow, Nov. 18 -- Gurdeep Singh Chadha, better known as Ponty Chadha, 59, headed the privately held Wave Group, which controls the wholesale liquor trade and around 4,000 retail liquor shops in Uttar Pradesh.

But the Rs. 6000-crore sugar-to-liquor-to-real estate-to-film distribution empire had a humble beginning - a cane crushing unit in Moradabad set up in early 1960s by Ponty's father Kulwant Singh Chadha.

Kulwant Singh Chadha had migrated from Pakistan during the partition days to Amritsar, where he started a small business. From Amritsar, he moved to Ramnagar near Nainital before settling in Moradabad.

He later entered into liquor retailing. From Moradabad, the business spread to Rampur, Najibabad, Bijnore. He also set up a paper mill near Rampur.

After his health deteriorated, eldest son Ponty, then in his mid-30s, began managing the business. Ponty began diversifying. He began taking contracts for supply of mid-day meals in UP. His siblings Rajinder Singh Chadha and Hardeep Singh Chadha became associates in the group's business.

Under Ponty, the group rose to dizzying heights, aided by some policies of the UP government that attracted criticism. Ponty found favour with every government in Uttar Pradesh and was reportedly close to top politicians in Punjab and Delhi as well.

His business began expanding rapidly after 2000 and the last five years were particularly good. Around this time the groundwork was laid for the ultra-modern Wave City project in Noida.

But controversy was not far behind. Ponty's name figured in the Uttar Pradesh assembly over monopoly of liquor wholesale business and the sale of government-owned sugar mills at throwaway prices - R206 crore against their reported value of Rs. 2,000 crore. Even the Comptroller and Auditor General had criticised the UP government over the latter charge. Ponty did not have his left hand (missing down the elbow) and three fingers on his right hand.

There are two different versions. One, he was injured in an attack by rivals when he was young. Second, he had an accident in his childhood while flying kites in Moradabad.

His physical problems did not impede his rise, but he was considered an "invisible man" despite his proximity to powerful politicians. There are few photographs of Ponty and he never gave interviews.People who have worked in his businesses say he conversed more in Punjabi than English.

"He was soft spoken, but we knew when he meant business. He was generous if anyone needed help and never threw his weight around," said a person who had worked as a manager in one of his ventures.Ponty had a lavish wedding for his daughter in Dubai in February this year. Sources said top politicians, businessmen and film personalities attended the wedding. PR managers apparently wanted to publicise the wedding, but Ponty put his foot down.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.