When it comes to his Rolex gold watch, Vincent Pala will not allow you to undervalue it. He did not let former minister Manas Chaudhuri get away with pricing it at Rs 12 lakh. “No, it is much more,” Pala told him. Not surprising, given that Pala is the richest Lok Sabha candidate from Shillong in Meghlaya. His net worth: Rs 25 crore.
Pala was not born rich. His parents could not even afford to educate him. Italian missionaries did. Father Henry Fantin and Father Joseph Fantin to be precise. His years at the hostel in High School were funded by the Church of North India.
Later, taking advantage of the quota reserved for Scheduled Tribes, Pala secured admission in a government engineering college and landed with an assistant engineer’s job in the Public Works Department. He quit last year to formally join the Congress. Till then he was its behind-the-scenes man on the job, actually its trouble-shooter.
Whenever a government had to be toppled or a chief minister replaced, Pala was pressed into service. And he delivered.
Loyal to D.D. Lapang, currently Meghalaya Chief Minister, Pala worked actively to wrest power back from rebel Congress candidate-turned-CM J.D. Rymbai. His efforts had Lapang back as chief minister in 2007. When a non Congress government headed by Donkupa Roy was in place, Pala engineered defections and toppled it early this year.
“I am” Pala told HT “good at toppling governments.” Money, as always, came in handy, as it did when Pala joined the Congress.
It was a keep-the-change kind of a situation. Against an initial deposit of Rs 25,000, Pala paid double for the membership form he had gone to pick up for his friend.
When he refused to take back Rs 25,000 “change”, the party functionary thrust another form and insisted that he enroll as a member. “And see today I am MP and minister,” beams Pala. Destiny’s child, as his detractors say.
His own chant: “Lucky…very lucky…for myself and others”. For himself, because he was born on Valentine’s Day, graduated from a government employee to heading a coal business and owning several petrol stations. It is, Pala believes, his “golden touch” (Midas Touch) that helped Meira Kumar’s elevation as Speaker of Lok Sabha. Pala worked with Kumar as her deputy in the Water Resource Ministry.
Till he flew his mother Hermelinda to Delhi for his swearing-in, she had never even boarded a train. For him it was his first time at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. A big day, he wore a formal suit and a tie, only to find how terribly overdressed he was. Most of his colleagues wore the traditional kurta pyjama, while he had bundled away the dozen-odd his tailor from Mumbai had stitched for him in anticipation.