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A billion disparities

india Updated: Mar 09, 2008 21:24 IST

The rising number of billionaires from Asia — especially India and China — is very much in line with the growing importance of the region in the world economy. India and China are upfront in wealth creation as they are also the fastest-growing economies in the world. The buzz is that they are fast becoming the engines of global growth. India, for its part, has an edge over the dragon in having a long-standing and vibrant entrepreneurial culture that has responded to the imperatives of globalisation after economic reforms kicked in during the early 1990s. Not surprisingly, the country remains home to the largest number of billionaires from Asia. All the four Asians in the Forbes top 10 happen to be Indians.

Overall, there are as many as 53 billionaires from India¸ with the listings headed by Lakshmi Nivas Mittal, Mukesh and Anil Ambani and K.P. Singh. While some hail from traditional business families that have long dominated India’s industrial landscape, a substantial number of billionaires happen to be ‘children of reform’, to borrow an expression of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The likes of Sunil Bharti Mittal, Azim Premji, Gautam Adani, Nandan Nilekani, G.M. Rao, G.V. Krishna Reddy and Tulsi Tanti exemplify the growing ranks of first-generation entrepreneurs who have become wealthy by seizing the opportunities thrown up by the liberalisation of the Indian economy.

The bad news, however, is that this process of wealth creation has the potential to trigger a backlash if allowed to get out of hand. The aggregate net worth of these billionaires is $ 334.6 billion or 33.5 per cent of India’s gross domestic product and represents a striking contrast to the fortunes of 70 per cent of the population who make do with Rs 20 a day! If the gains of reforms have indeed gone to the rich while the poor have become poorer, the constituency for reforms is bound to shrink. Growing disparities, if not matched by a corresponding rise of incomes across the population, is a recipe for social unrest.