ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Understanding India’s Gilded Age

India’s Billionaires or Billionaires’ India?

The Billionaire Raj: A Journey through India’s New Gilded Age by James Crabtree, Noida: Harper Collins, 2018; pp 358 + xxv, `799.


A series of reports released in 2018 by Oxfam and World Inequality Lab pointed to monstrous inequa­lities across the world, but the data pertaining to India was far more intimidating. The Oxfam survey reveals that India’s richest 1% corner 73% of the national wealth (Economic Times 2018). This picture gets murkier when we witness the increase in the number of billionaires in India from one in 1991 to 131 in 2018 (Fina­ncial Express 2018). In fact, in 2018 alone, the wealth of billionaires in India grew by `2,200 crore, while the poorest remained in debt (Oxfam India 2019). In 2008, in a speech to the Bombay Chamber of Commerce, Raghuram Rajan (2008) evinced a threat of oligarchy in India, which did not trigger a debate at that point of time; however, in 2011, Jayant Sinha and Ashutosh Varshney wrote somewhat strongly that it is now “the time for India to rein in its robber barons” (Sinha and Varshney 2011). In a similar tone, Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote on the total silence on inequality in India, “the way we think about inequality matters a lot to the shape it takes and to the prospects for its diminishment” (Mehta 2012).

All these statements might have passed over as too prosaic and too short to find cause amidst national issues, but the available data apparently punctures every claim made of an “emerging India.” While scholars of political science and economics have entirely overlooked the phenomena of the rise of India’s super-rich and the resultant inequalities since the 1990s, James Crabtree’s contribution is pro­bably a maiden attempt to make sense of the staggering rise of billionaires in ­India, a phenomenon he calls “India’s Gilded Age.” Crabtree’s work is, indeed, a journalistic work on the subject based on reports, stories, and interviews. Yet, it does highlight the deep rot that leads to such a phenomenon in the first place. Arguments and narratives are drawn lar­gely from reports, as well as interviews with some of India’s richest people (inc­l­uding the dominant, emerging and fallen), economists, politicians, and technocrats.

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Updated On : 8th Mar, 2021
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