Under the Influence

Ponty Chadha’s potent mix of liquor and politics

01 November, 2013

|ONE |

PERHAPS THERE IS NO BETTER WAY to divine the significance of a regime change than to observe the reshuffling of courtiers who thrive off and influence power. For many journalists and political analysts, then, the high-profile guests entering the grounds of Lucknow’s La Martinière Boys’ College on 15 March 2012 revealed a lot about whom the new Uttar Pradesh government would smile upon, and how it would function, in the ensuing five years. Nine days earlier, the Samajwadi Party (SP) had won a majority in the state’s 16th legislative assembly elections since Independence, and the scion of the party’s ruling dynasty, Akhilesh Yadav, was preparing to be sworn in as the new chief minister. Hundreds of celebrating SP workers in red Gandhi caps danced and sang songs before a stage draped in flowers.

Sitting in a special enclosure were some of the country’s most prominent politicians, bureaucrats, police officers, film stars and industrialists. The previous day, the Times of India reported that the Yadav family had “doled out invitations to every celeb known to them”. When the billionaire mogul Anil Ambani showed up, SP supporters shepherded him to a seat next to Akhilesh’s father, the party patriarch, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who had led the state at three different points.

Ambani was also present at Mulayam’s swearing-in ceremony for his third stint as chief minister, in 2003. The following year, Mulayam supported Ambani’s successful bid for a Rajya Sabha seat, and granted him the rights to build a 3,500-megawatt power plant in Gautam Buddh Nagar district, where the Uttar Pradesh government had purchased land at cheap prices for “public purpose”. The project had been stalled by farmers demanding higher compensation for the 2,500 acres making up the site, 40 kilometres from the national capital, but Ambani and Mulayam remained close.