Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Did Ponty’s murder take place in a paroxysm of passion or was it premeditated?

Akash Bisht Delhi

On November 17, 2012, leading Bollywood producer Bharat Shah was to fly to Delhi to show his yet to be released film ‘Zila Ghaziabad’ to Ponty Chadha, who had shown great interest in acquiring the worldwide distribution rights of the film. Based on the true story of the mafia wars in Uttar Pradesh, the movie tells the life and death of a slain cop, Thakur Pritam Singh, and two outlaws, Satbir Gujjar and Mahender Fauji. Fashioned around the persona of Robinhood, policeman Singh was gunned down in 1998, while Gujjar and Fauji were also killed in fierce gunfights.

 The storyline struck a chord with Chadha, who, too, ran a liquor syndicate in UP and had built an empire using his considerable political and muscle power. Quite like the protagonist of the film, Chadha conducted himself like the mafia don, who loved guns and had an entourage of armed bodyguards accompanying him at all times. Despite his disability—one of his hands was deformed—he had a gun especially designed for him.

Barely an hour before the screening, Ponty found himself in the middle of a mafia-style shooting and was gunned down by his brother, Hardeep, over property disputes. Chadha was reportedly hit by 15 bullets while Hardeep had eight such injuries. The two brothers died at the spot in a barrage of bullets that flew across their farmhouse in Chhatarpur. Interestingly, more than 45 bullets were fired in the shootout that lasted 5-7 minutes, but only two people were killed, giving room for conspiracy theories. There were many people present when the violent face-off took place between the feuding brothers. Did the murder take place in a paroxysm of passion or was it premeditated? The police has been working on a criminal conspiracy and has detained a dubious character called Sukhdev Namdhari a sidekick of Chadha’s, for allegedly shooting Hardeep. Initial police investigations suggest the involvement of many more people.

The rumour mills have been abuzz with the possibility of involvement of others who may have wanted Chadha dead to prevent him from bagging the lucrative liquor trade of Uttar Pradesh, tenders for which were to be put out  soon by the state government. Local UP newspapers have been hinting broadly about a mafia boss-politician with stakes in the state’s liquor business. It seems like a carefully conceived mafia operation in which some key people around Chadha had been compromised. “The whole shootout reminds me of a scene in the film The Godfather, where Sonny is provoked to come out of the comfort of his secure house and then shot in broad daylight. The possibility of the brothers being provoked to confront each other by other interests is also not being ruled out. We are looking at all possibilities,” says a Delhi police official.

Much to the joy of his rivals, and there seem to be many, Chadha’s death opened many closed avenues. The fate of his varied business interests running into thousands of crores of rupees also looks uncertain. There would be many big fish who would be eager to take control of his businesses. He may have had friends cutting across party lines, but that is unlikely to help his successors.

His meteoric rise from a petty trader to millionaire is often attributed to his sharp acumen for business. “He was a master businessman who knew where to invest and how to make powerful friends. He was very persuasive and would stun people with his street smart intelligence. Since his childhood days in Moradabad, everyone knew that he would make it big,” says a family member.

The eldest of Kulvant Singh Chadha’s three sons, Chadha was born in Moradabad in 1957 where he spent most of his youth. Kulvant then tried his luck with small businesses and Chadha joined him in his endeavours. There are conflicting reports about their earlier forays, some claiming that Kulvant started to sell milk and came in contact with an excise inspector who handed him a licence for running a country liquor store. Others claim that the father-son duo first operated a small snack stall outside a liquor store and then managed to get a licence for one. However, the most interesting account of their early days in business comes from a relative who mentions that the Chadhas made it big after they entered the bhang and opium business. “This business did wonders for the Chadhas who were then persuaded by Punjab’s liquor syndicate to try their luck in the liquor trade and since then there has been no looking back for the family,” says another relative.

Everything was going well for the Chadhas but one man stood in their way of gaining monopoly over the liquor trade in Moradabad. Totala was a rival businessman who had much larger stakes in the liquor business and had the support of the UP liquor lobby while the Chadhas had the backing of the Punjab’s liquor syndicate. The battle for supremacy was getting uglier and one day Totala mysteriously went missing. His disappearance is attributed to the Chadhas. Once Totala was out of their way, the Chadhas began to enlarge their influence. “Chadha would shower influential people with expensive gifts. He also helped them to park their money in his firms that helped him gain their confidence,” says a senior politician. 

 ‘The whole shootout reminds me of a scene in the film The Godfather, where Sonny is provoked to come out of the comfort of his secure house and then shot in broad daylight. The possibility of both the brothers being provoked to confront each other by other interests is also not being ruled out’ 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: DECEMBER 2012