The abrupt, violent end of Sardar Gurdeep Singh Chadha, better known as Ponty Chadha, has cast a looming shadow over the fate of liquor business in Uttar Pradesh.
For Ponty ruled the trade and had the clout to dictate terms to even policymakers in the northern state. He had the monopoly over the Rs 14,000 crore liquor trade in Uttar Pradesh and controlled almost all the liquor godowns in the state. But his death on Saturday in a Chhatarpur farmhouse in Delhi has sparked a raging debate among the liquor lobby in UP over whether their business would return to 'pre-Ponty' days or it would trigger the rise of another baron. The other factor fuelling the rumour mills is the upcoming review of state's excise policy after March 31, 2013.
It remains to be seen whether former veteran Jawahar Jaiswal of Varanasi could use this opportunity to stage a comeback. However, it would be a gargantuan task for the Jaiswals to follow because Ponty single-handedly changed the face of liquor business using his massive political clout, which extended beyond party lines.
In 2008, the BSP government created a special excise zone comprising Bareilly, Moradabad, Meerut, Saharanpur and Agra allowing Ponty to have a virtual monopoly over the supply and pricing of liquor.
He enjoyed close ties with former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh and lost no time to cosy up to the party when it returned to power this year. He was among the invitees to the swearing-in ceremony of UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.
"See, businesses as big as Ponty's aren't run and managed by a single individual after a point. So technically the Wave Group could still continue to maintain its monopoly, if they could influence the SP government and get a favourable review of the excise policy," said Pappu Gupta, member of Lucknow Sharab Association.
Even his worst critics, SP Singh, president of the Lucknow Sharab Association, and Anil Agarwal, a senior office bearer of the body, said they would miss the liquor baron.
The love-hate relationship his adversaries had with Ponty was explained by a liquor retailer in Lucknow: "We hated his arm-twisting tactics yet he indirectly protected us outside the special excise zone since our contracts were renewed in the same lot as his and our shops were not put out for auction."
Dry days ahead?
Tipplers in UP may stop getting their daily dose of booze as the retail shops are likely to fall short of stock, in case the supply, halted after the baron's sudden death, is not restored in a couple of days. All 57 godowns across the state, owned by Ponty that supplied liquor to over 4,000 retail shops across the state, have closed their operations.
"The stock is limited. It can last barely two or three days. In case the supply is not restored within a few days, the shops will fall short of supply," KL Maurya, office bearer of the Liquor Trader's Association told HT.
Had it not been for an extra stock saved for Diwali festival by the shops, things could have been even worse, according to the traders. "As of now, there is no shortage. We have additional stock in view of the festive season," said LB Yadav, Lucknow's district excise officer.
While there are no other means of liquor supply elsewhere in the state, the Capital has another godown owned by a rival liquor group. It started functioning this year only after court intervention.
But this godown is only a small fry in comparison to the one owned by Ponty, situated on the city outskirts, that controls majority of the supply to over 175 retail shops, including model shops in the state capital.
More than 50,000 litres of country-made liquor and nearly 102 lakh beer bottles are consumed in the state capital per day.
(with inputs by Ghulam Jeelani and Pradeep Saxena in Lucknow and Aligarh)