Guptagate: Big fat Indian wedding at S African air base!

Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times

London, May 2 -- Wealthy Indians and a bit of flash go hand in hand.

But the Saharanpur-born billionaire Gupta brothers of South Africa are being accused of going too far after flying in 200 wedding guests from India to one of the country's most strategic air force bases on Tuesday. The Guptas, headed by brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh, are an influential family in South Africa and are close to President Jacob Zuma. They own the New Age newspaper and the massive Sahara computer group.

The guests were headed for the wedding of their 23-year-old niece Vega Gupta in Sun City.

The chartered Jet Airways flight carrying the guests landed at the strategic Waterklof Air Force base near the capital Pretoria, from where the guests were said to have been driven with police escort.

Now opposition parties, trade unions and even the ruling African National Party (ANC) are calling for an explanation - Waterklof is a National Key Point, whose "loss, damage, disruption or immobilisation may prejudice the Republic."

"The African National Congress will never rest where there is any indication that all and sundry may be permitted to undermine the Republic, its citizens and its borders. We again make the call, even at this late hour, to the SANDF to explain how this private aircraft landed at Waterkloof Airforce Base," the ANC said in an angry statement.

Over 400 guests are expected to attend the three-day multi-million-Rand wedding ceremony this weekend, and a spokesman for the Gupta family indicated the Guptas had sought the help of the Indian High Commission to facilitate the Waterkloof landing.

"Waterkloof was used with full permission of the authorities to receive foreign dignitaries, including some ministers," the family's spokesman Haranath Ghosh said.

"Naturally suitable protocol was used to receive and transport the foreign ministers to the wedding."

The Daily Telegraph quoted an SANDF spokesman as saying, "As far as I know, no permission has been granted to a private citizen to use the base. It is a military base and a national key point used by government and its guests."

And a spokesman for President Zuma said he was in Zimbabwe and "out of the loop."

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.