By @SimonCocking a review of The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age, by James Crabtree, Oneworld (UK); Tim Duggan Books (US). Shortlisted for The Financial Times and McKinsey & Company 2018 Business Book of the Year Award.

Can one of the most divided nations on the planet become its next superpower? James Crabtree reveals the titans of politics and industry shaping India in a period of breakneck change – from controversial prime minister Narendra Modi, victor in the largest election in history, to the leading lights of the country’s burgeoning billionaire class. 

Over the past two decades, India has grown at an unprecedented rate, rivaled only by China. Yet while the‘Bollygarchs’ revel in new riches, millions languish in their shadows, trapped in the teeming slums of the country’s megacities.

Against a combustible backdrop of aspiration, class, and caste, reformers fight for change, while fugitive tycoons and shadowy political power brokers struggle to maintain their grip on power. The Billionaire Raj is a vivid portrait of the divisions within the world’s largest democracy, and one whose future will shape the world.

India has come a long way in a short time recently, and yet, before the British ruled India, it was also a massive global trading entity, with a large amount of assets and wealth. While the Indians still revere some aspects of the British period, post Independence, and much more recently with the loosening of the command and control state approach to economic policies, the Indian economy has boomed. Much like post Soviet era Russia, so too with India, a small number of entrepreneurs, in the right place, at the right time, made millions, and then billions from seizing on the right opportunities.

Crabtree’s analysis is written from a perspective of diving deeply into the daily life on India, meeting the people he has written about, interviewing them, with varying degrees of engagement from his interviewees. In every chapter it comes across that Crabtree is aware of the complexity and challenges of documenting and analysing why India is the way that it is, and why these people all became as rich as they did. The parallels to Russia continue too, with a very small number of people holding a very large amount of the wealth. The challenges of getting a more equitable income distribution are massive, especially when the wealth of these tycoons often impacts on the local law enforcement agencies, and shady to corrupt trading practices are often closely association with their dealings.

It is a good book to read, to better understand the India environment, even if perhaps a little depressing if you wonder if it can ever be done differently. Social justice campaigners may call for less corruption, and a government less held in a captive web of entanglement with its donors/benefactors and wealthy backers. Also after a while, the litany of people profiled, chapter after chapter began to seem a little repetitive in their profiles and nature, perhaps no fault of the author, but certainly a massive challenge for Indian society.

Well worth reading.

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