The 36 Forbes Billionnaires do reflect the new India because now we can afford cheese
After the list of Forbes billionaires was out and it showed that India has the most billionaires in Asia, even beating Japan, there were those both inside and outside India who were uncomfortable with the idea. Some outright sneered at it. Why? Because India is a country which is also host to millions of poor people and it has no public health system to speak of and infrastructure is poor. People like to compare India with other countries in Asia. There are Asian countries which have far fewer poor people, better infrastructure, a better public health system, and even if they have fewer billionnaires…well, so what?
But each country is unique. India’s poverty is result of the 200 years of colonial rule and the fifty years of the misguided economic policies of the ‘socialist’ government that came after that. It was a government that did not allow free trade, laid out reams of red tape to prevent Indians from starting and running businesses and at the same time allowed those in power to amass wealth in Swiss bank accounts. The government operated in total secrecy, and there were a lot of restrictions on the press.
The poverty in those days was horrendous. I grew up during Indira Gandhi’s rule and have seen it for myself. If you call the roads full of pot holes now, it was worse then. Concrete roads were a pipe dream. People from the professional middle class could not afford to buy new cars and those from the lower economic classes could not afford televisions and refrigerators. We belonged to the professional middle class but had to think twice before buying cheese! Today engineers and doctors can buy a new car with ease, there are loans available and salaries have gone up. People are buying their own apartments. The lower middle classes do not think of TV’s and fridges as luxuries anymore. And I am talking of just thirty years ago!
But people say why talk of thirty years ago, talk of five years ago. Well, even five years ago it was a different world too. Salaries were low, roads had just started to improve and consumer goods like LCD TV’s and automatic washing machines were out of the reach of many middle class people. And my aunt who arrived from the States could still get us stuff like perfumes, cosmetics and T-shirts that we couldn’t buy in India. Today we can – and frankly far better stuff that she picks up on Sale there. And the most important thing – there was no RTI (Right to Information) Act then. The Act is helping curb corruption. The media too has become more vibrant.
India’s greatest problem today is corruption and this developed a hundred fold during the Socialist Rule. Everyone knows that the ‘ruling’ family too had their Swiss accounts. The secrecy with which the government could operate gave untold power to the politicians and bureaucrats. Today it is because of corruption that public money is not being used properly for infrastructure and for the poor. It is because of the corruption that India is so poor.
And it is because of the Forbes billionnaires and the other successful people who have come up the hard way that India is going to where it is…hurtling towards the number two spot in the economic hierachy.
The corruption will start to crumble. It needs time. The RTI Act has just come into force. Its only in the last five years that media has started to expose scams, use hidden cameras to nail cops and politicians and started to highlight corrupt judgements. And the fact that we now have a strong opposition party is helping.
I am not an economist and perhaps that is why I cannot understand it when they say that there no ‘trickle down effect’. Maybe they are expecting a flood, but I am expecting a trickle and I think we are getting more than that. I see the increasing prosperity around me. The middle class is ballooning..and where are they coming from? From the poorer sections ofcourse! Every now and then in the newspapers you hear of stories of paanwaalas and sweepers who have educated their children and these children have become professionals. These stories warm my heart.
It is the corruption that is making us hang our heads in shame. It is because of corruption that money allocated is not being channeled into Education and Health. The corrupt politicians need to be voted out and this can only happen if more educated people vote. And those who do vote are educated.
Its going to be a slow ride. But the Forbes billionnaires are telling us something. They are telling us that in India today you can make it if you work hard and if you have the enterprise. We are all going to make it and take this country forward. Believe it.
Update: March 2008: India now has 4 Indians in the world’s richest list. Link here. With a combined net worth of $160 billion, Mr Lakshmi Mittal, Mr Mukesh Ambani, Mr Anil Ambani and Mr K.P. Singh are the only Asians in this list. The original article from Forbes is here. The top ten in the list are:
- Warren Buffett
- Carlos Slim Helu
- William Gates III
- Lakshmi Mittal
- Mukesh Ambani
- Anil Ambani
- Ingvar Kamprad
- KP Singh
- Oleg Deripaska
- Karl Albrecht
Related Reading on India’s economy:
Indians on the whole are better off today but not as much as the government says
India to be number two economically by 2050
People’s world-view has changed
Indians want more money to be spend on health and education
Economic disparity not that wide in India.
Highest pay hikes to be in India in 2007
India’s problems coming in the way of development:
Fighting corruption in India
Does the US produce more engineers or does India?
Ministers misuse slum funds
Slum Rehab project in trouble.
Mumbai plans to rid itself of slums by 2015
Street children are being denied education
Where are street children to go?
Corrupt officials allow slums on brand new roads underneath flyovers
Tier two cities like kolkata are becoming outsourcing hubs
A ray of hope:
A rags to riches story