India’s Billionaire Boom
THE SOURCE: “Where Do India’s Billionaires Get Their Wealth?” by Aditi Gandhi and Michael Walton, in Economic and Political Weekly, Oct. 6, 2012.
Indian billionaires are a new and powerful breed. There were only two in the mid-1990s; today there are 46. Entrepreneurs and heirs alike are reaping the rewards of India’s burgeoning economy. Is the billionaire boom a sign of healthy business dynamism, or does it suggest that a tiny cabal of oligarchs is taking over?
The evidence is mixed but troubling. Using data compiled by Forbes magazine, economists Aditi Gandhi and Michael Walton, of the New Delhi–based Center for Policy Research, generated an overview of Indian billionaires’ social and business backgrounds. Some are breaking the caste mold—18 of the 46 come from outside the traditional merchant classes. A small number, including Shiv Nadar, the founder of technology and outsourcing giant HCL, rose from lower and “backward” castes. Only one Muslim, Wipro chairman Azim Premji, has penetrated the uppermost echelons of the business elite. (Almost 15 percent of India’s population is Muslim.) Overall, the billionaires’ wealth equals about 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, more than twice the proportion of GDP claimed by billionaires in China, South Korea, and other developing countries.
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