Controversial businessman Ponty Chaddha, who was killed along with his brother in an exchange of fire between the two men and their security staff over a family dispute in New Delhi on Saturday, lived and died for money.
Rising from extremely humble beginnings, Chaddha raised a Rs 50,000 crore (Rs 500 billion) empire, sprawling across large parts of North India — Uttar Pradesh , Uttarakhand , Punjab , Haryana and Rajasthan — where he nearly monopolised the liquor trade.
According to sources in Ramnagar, a small town on the UP-Uttarakhand border, Chaddha’s father Kulwant Singh sold fried fish from a handcart parked outside a country liquor shop.
After a few years, Kulwant Singh set up a small sugarcane crusher, which raised his earnings and enabled him to secure the contract for a country liquor shop. That became the turning point in the life of Kulwant Singh and his sons.
Ponty grew up amidst an environment of prohibition across the then hill region (now Uttarakhand state) in Uttar Pradesh, of which he made full use to his blatant advantage. Very early in life he earned the sobriquet, ‘Liquor don’ of the hills.
There was no looking back for Ponty even after he lost a forearm and three fingers of his other arm under a sugarcane crusher. The handicap never came in the way of building a fortune in the most ruthless manner.
After establishing himself as the undisputed liquor king in the northern states, he started spreading his tentacles into other businesses. Using his money power to influence governments — cutting across political parties — he established his sway over the child nutrition programme run by various state governments.
The supply and distribution of readymade ‘nutritious’ food — worth billions of rupees — began to be monopolied by Ponty in the same way as he did the liquor trade.
If that was not enough to fulfill his lust for money, he diversified into the construction of malls and multiplexes in prime areas in Noida, Lucknow , Ghaziabad and Hardwar.
Clearly knowing which side of the toast to butter, he could cultivate sworn political rivals like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati or opposing political parties like the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party.
It was no surprise that he was rewarded with two new sectors carved out for him along National Highway 24 in Noida during the Mayawati regime.
During Mayawati’s fourth stint as UP chief minister between 2007 and 2012, Ponty Chadda made inroads into the sugar industry. Using his clout with Mayawati, he took over nearly half a dozen ‘sick’ state sugar mills, put up for privatisation by the UP government.
No sooner did the Samajwadi Party bounce back to power in UP this year, Ponty wasted no time in regaining Mulayam Singh’s favour, to once again manipulate and influence key government policies to his pecuniary advantage.
His insatiable craving for wealth and more wealth ultimately became his nemesis on Saturday afternoon.