A pink sari with a purple border for Rekha Devi and a mustard shade for Lalita Devi, each priced at Rs 1,100 and bought from the “best” sari shop at Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district. “Why not? Such a wedding is happening for the first time in Auli,” said Rekha.
The two friends are not on the exclusive guest list for the Rs 200-crore wedding extravaganza of the two sons of controversial business brothers Atul and Ajay Gupta in Auli, 16 km from Joshimath, but have showed up like hundreds others to simply “watch”.
At 3,000m above sea level, Auli, an alpine meadow, has never been the centre of attention. From December-March, adventure junkies drive up for skiing — otherwise, the tiny hill station is a pit-stop for devotees on their way to Badrinath.
Last week, however, Auli entered the news cycle when the Uttarakhand High Court slammed the state government’s decision to allow the extravagant wedding at the pristine site, after a resident filed a petition against the event.
On June 18, the High Court ordered the Gupta brothers to deposit Rs 3 crore to the District Magistrate of Chamoli for restoration after the event, and directed that two monitoring assistants be deputed at the site to ensure measures suggested by the Court and the state pollution control board are adhered to.
But then, the Gupta brothers are not new to controversy — from becoming one of the most influential families in South Africa, with a business empire spanning computers, mining and media, after they moved from UP’s Saharanpur to their dubious links to former president Jacob Zuma; from moving to Dubai following corruption charges in 2018 to this big, fat wedding in Uttarakhand.
“In Auli, people spend Rs 2-3 lakh on a wedding, we want to see what a Rs 200-crore wedding is like… and we can’t show up in everyday clothes for that, so we bought new saris,” said Rekha, 41, who is the local Congress mahila committee president, while Lalita, 44, is a BJP member.
“We had never heard of Guptaji before this… he has made Auli and Joshimath world famous. But there are no arrangements for locals. We have come from our villages to see it but there’s no food for us, not even a free chairlift ride. We had to pay Rs 500 each. We are giving you Auli, what are you giving us?” asked 85-year-old Navmi Devi. She had travelled from a village two hours away after a local resident told her that “Guptaji has asked everyone to come and attend the wedding, have all meals here”.
“All the staff has come from Delhi but they’ve hired some men from Auli to help with decorations and arrangement… we are being paid Rs 1,000 a day. It’s good money but such few people have been employed. How is this tourism for us?” asked a 50-year-old labourer in his fifth day on the job here.
The Guptas, meanwhile, are going all out for the wedding of Ajay’s son Suryakant with Kritika Singhal, daughter of Suresh Singhal, a Delhi-based diamond merchant, on June 20; and Atul’s son Shashank’s wedding with Shivangi Jalan, daughter of Dubai-based businessman Vishal Jalan. Rajesh Gupta is the third brother in the family.
In Auli, barring one homestay, all hotels have been booked for the weddings, which started on June 17 and will go on till June 22. The main venue is Cliff Top hotel, decorated like the valley of flowers, and teeming with Bollywood and TV celebrities and musicians — from Katrina Kaif and Badshah to Kailash Kher and Shruti Pathak. Baba Ramdev’s close aide Balkrishna was present at Suraykant’s wedding Thursday and the Uttarakhand Chief Minister is expected to attend Shashank’s Saturday.