THE COUNTRY’S MOST IMPORTANT politicians and industrialists walked into a brightly lit hall in Chennai on 18 January 2015. Among them were the senior ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Piyush Goyal, M Venkaiah Naidu and Ravi Shankar Prasad, and the former deputy prime minister LK Advani. Also in attendance were powerful Tamil politicians, including the heads of three regional outfits. Amit Shah, the Bharatiya Janata Party president at the time, used the opportunity to iron out their possible alliances in the state. The actor Rajnikanth ate well that day, as did the head of the national broadcaster. Also walking under the gold-painted eaves were prominent industrialists: the heads of Larsen and Toubro, India Cements, TVS and Amalgamations. They had all reached the quiet Brahmin-majority locality of Mylapore in Chennai for the wedding of Malavika, the daughter of the chartered accountant Swaminathan Gurumurthy, with the son of a wealthy Tamil Brahmin businessman. The newspapers reported it was a simple middle-class wedding, with “simple … south Indian vegetarian fare.” Simple, like the accountant professes to be.
Perhaps the most surprising attendee was Ajit Doval, India’s national security advisor, who was chaperoned by Manoj Kumar Sonthalia, the chairperson of the New Indian Express Group. Not a single photo from the event ever made it to the newspapers. Sonthalia personally shooed away the New Indian Express photographer who had arrived to cover the nuptials. “That’s how Guru wanted it to be, simple with no publicity, and I obliged,” Sonthalia told me. “It was a family wedding, and I was playing host.”