The foreign correspondent’s memoir of an adventurous, exotic posting has become a kind of publishing standard. Awed by the drama of modern India, Crabtree joins tycoons on private jets, attends lavish parties and is charmed by the eloquent elites at the forefront of South Asia’s gilded age. These chapters sometimes read a bit like repurposed articles and strung-together profiles. While Crabtree’s book occasionally suffers from abrupt shifts in focus, it offers an excellent survey of India’s economic and political transformation. In crisp language designed for a general reader, The Billionaire Raj provides an overview of just how India became the world’s most coveted market after its independence from British rule ... There is too little attention paid to caste, gender and the environmental degradation facing many of India’s teeming cities, and the narration is sometimes too narrowly confined to the chandelier-strewn ballrooms of the country’s new palaces ... But the author’s first-hand journey into the dizzying heights and distressing recesses of Indian capitalism is a worthy addition to modern India’s story.
There have been scores of books about India that focus on its poverty, some sensitive and soulful, others frankly execrable. In contrast, very few offer a portrait of Indians with wealth ... In the mid-1990s, India had only two—repeat, two—billionaires, with a paltry $3 billion between them. By 2010, Forbes included 49 on its global list. Today there are over 100, more than any country bar the U.S., China and Russia. The wealth of India’s billionaires currently comprises 15% of the country’s GDP, up from 1% in 1995 ... (Mr. Crabtree) devotes his energies to a study of the Bad Billionaires, those who work in 'rent-thick' sectors where firms couldn’t possibly make money without access to government favors. The 'raj' in the title is intended to suggest a 'nexus'—a word beloved of Indian editorialists—between business and government, akin to the one that bound government to commerce during the state-controlled 'license raj' that prevailed before 1991. Mr. Crabtree describes in detail the manner in which the billionaires of this cohort got rich with the help of politicians and bureaucrats.
India is now one of the world’s economic hotspots. Stock images of starving children, miserable peasants and cheating shop owners have been augmented with those of high-tech development and booming cities. India is now the world’s fastest-growing economy. It is about to become the third-largest economy — at least in terms of purchasing power dollars if not yet real ones. Foreign investors are rushing in. In The Billionaire Raj, James Crabtree has written a compelling guide to what awaits them ... Crabtree gives entertaining portraits of some billionaires. The opening chapters cover Mukesh Ambani and his towering residential Antilla, the most expensive house ever built in India, which now dominates the Mumbai skyline; the fugitive Vijay Mallya, a drinks tycoon who was once known as the King of Good Times; the reticent Gautam Adani, an infrastructure entrepreneur who owns ports, mines and refineries (etc) ... Crabtree has given us the most comprehensive and eminently readable tour of economic India, which, as he shows, cannot be understood without a knowledge of how political India works.
Weaving together political analysis, academic research, and profiles of India’s new tycoons, several of whom spoke with him, Crabtree constructs a layered narrative of a nation in economic and political upheaval. Startling accounts of conspicuous consumption abound, as do sordid tales of high-society business intrigue. But Crabtree’s target is bigger—India’s transforming political and economic culture. In lucid detail, he explains how the nation of Gandhi and Nehru became the nation of Mukesh Ambani, the billionaire industrialist whose 500-foot-tall personal residence looms over Mumbai ... A must for readers interested in contemporary India and a revelation for those interested in our changing world.
[Crabtree] opens with an important point: India is still an intensely poor country ... readers at the outset of Crabtree's book are left with no illusions about the state of the economy underlying this new oligarchy of super-wealth ... In fast-paced evocative prose, Crabtree...describes some of the foremost players in that continuous struggle at the heart of India's booming but troubled economy.
It’s not the Taj Mahal, but it’s got two-thirds of the floor space of Versailles—and on a footprint of just an acre. Former Financial Times Mumbai bureau chief Crabtree considers the Mumbai apartment tower built by billionaire Mukesh Ambani to be the pre-eminent symbol of 'the power of India’s new elite,' one that pointedly emphasizes the sharp divide between rich and poor in the country—and indeed, the divide between the merely rich and the superrich ... A report from the front lines of inequality and corruption in India, one of the world’s rising economies ... Solid reading for students of economic development and global economics.
In this eye-opening rumination on wealth, power, and those who seek both, Crabtree, a former India correspondent for the Financial Times, ventures deep into the shadowy heart of India’s 'black-money' economy ... From the cantilevered skyscrapers of Mumbai’s billionaire elite to a neglected Muslim ghetto in Ahmedabad, Crabtree brings a reporter’s precision and flair to his story, arguing that the rise of the 'Bollygarchs' and the takeover of Indian politics by huge sums of private money has led to a boom-and-bust cycle in India’s industrial economy ... An inside look into the corridors of power, this is an invaluable commentary on Indian democracy and the forces that threaten it.