Eight Indians made Forbes magazine’s latest list of the top 100 billionaires, and two – energy tycoon Mukesh Ambani and steel mogul Lakshmi Mittal – sit in the top 5. Mr. Ambani is now the fourth richest person in the world, and the richest person in the Asia-Pacific region.
Ten of Asia’s top 25 billionaires are Indian, while one is from China.
Although China has more billionaires overall than India (and every other country besides the United States, for the first time), Indian billionaires are richer. According to a local edition of Forbes last November, the wealthiest 100 Indians are collectively worth $276 billion, while their top 100 Chinese counterparts are worth $170 billion.
The three richest Indians – Ambani brothers Mukesh and Anil and Mr. Mittal – together had more wealth the top 24 Chinese billionaires combined.
A measure of growth
Last year, buffeted by the global downturn, 29 Indian billionaires were knocked off the Forbes annual list. But by the end of the year, with the economy chugging back to 7 percent growth, fortunes began to swell again.
With 49 billionaires in 2010 – up from 24 the year before – India is one of only 11 nations to have more than doubled the number of billionaires, a sign of how it weathered the economic downturn better than most recession-wracked economies in the West. Other nations include China, South Korea, and Turkey.
In the 1960s India’s filthy-rich royals who had inherited substantial fortunes dominated the list of elite. Commoners like Ambanis and Tatas began amassing fortunes in the 1990s after the country relaxed controls over Indian industry. In recent years, a growing number of entrepreneurs – including those who did not benefit from a family fortune – have made it to the Forbes list.
The rise in billionaires reflects a growing and more prosperous India, though the country, home to one-sixth of the world’s population, still struggles with widespread poverty and inequality.