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Adding up the billions

The new billionaires represent emerging industries such as construction, real estate and infrastructure that reflect the economic priorities of a populous nation growing from its basic needs of food, clothing and shelter to a more affluent position.

india Updated: Nov 18, 2007 23:05 IST

When it is raining billions and billionaires, an ordinary citizen is well entitled to ask: what gives? The fact that India, which less than two decades had to mortgage its gold to borrow less than $ 500 million, now sports about 40 people whose net worth is valued at more than $ 1 billion each, raises questions on the whys and wherefores of the phenomenon, as measured by Forbes, which makes its living counting others’ beans. Collectively, Indian billionaires were worth more than $ 351 billion, which is more than double the $ 170 billion last year.

This year’s list proves several things. For one, it confirms that measuring the billions is dependent largely on the stock market valuations of shares held by the people concerned. In the business now broadly called wealth creation, company managements create value in the perceptions of fund managers and investors by running their companies well, and, in turn, the market rewards them by sending their shares up. Global flows of investments aid this phenomenon. Second, the Forbes billionaires also represent
the coming out of the closet of many of India’s traditional industrial families, which have historically not been inclined to directly flaunt their wealth. It is a tribute to the culture of transparency and shareholder democracy that the worthily rich now get some fame as well.

Third, the new billionaires represent emerging industries such as construction, real estate and infrastructure that reflect the economic priorities of a populous nation growing from its basic needs of food, clothing and shelter to a more affluent position. Others represent industries like wind power and healthcare which serve the needs of people in a changing world where money can be made in saving lives and protecting the environment.

Whatever be the areas these billionaires have chosen to excel in, collectively, they represent the spirit of a resurgent India that shows its potential to the world. It is wise to remember that a lot of the wealth in question is on paper, encashable within limits and fickle as volatile markets are or can be. However, a lot of this billionaire value is real for they are axiomatically linked to the earnings potential of the companies that their shares represent. A pinch of salt may be in order, but cynicism clearly is not.