In the past, India has been no stranger to monetary success. The Gupta Empire saw its fair share of privileged individuals, who amassed untold amounts of wealth. Later the Mughal Emperors and nobility surrounded themselves with more gold and jewels than the Royal houses of Europe put together. Even during the days of the British Raj, India saw many of its native families rise to economic prominence, shipping magnates the Wadias and hoteliers the Tatas to name a few. Now, in 2013, with rapid economic expansion and the advent of globalism, we bear witness to the rise of the Bollygarchs.
The Bollygarchs, a less sinister variation of the Russian Oligarchs, are the prime beneficiaries of India’s new found success in the age old game of capitalism. Some come from quite humble origins, others from more comfortable backgrounds, but they would all make Shah Jahan look positively insignificant in terms of wealth. It was in 2009 that the list of Indian billionaires sky rocketed, which did not come as any sort of surprise, considering Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a former Finance Minister, set about relaxing the laws on trade and investment soon after he came to office in 2004, closing the gap between entrepreneurs and their access to greater economic benefits. The reeling back of the socialised approach to the Indian economy has been swift, and not without causalities, but the overall outcome has seen India, as a nation, gain a better place on the world stage.
When it comes to the fundamental core of the Indian economy today, it is the Bollygarchs who have made the biggest impact; it is they who are enticing big business to the country, the goliaths of telecommunications, computers etc. However, with India still remoulding the way its economy operates, this has left the Bollygarchs in a slight quagmire, as the capital markets are a lot less buoyant, and this is why they are taking flight. For them though, it is not New York or Paris which is proving the best place to go, but London.
As far back as the 19th century, with the arrival of the shipbuilding tycoon Ardaseer Cursetjee, the city of London has enticed India’s wealthy, but it was in the 1960’s, when Punjabi business magnate Swraj Paul settled in the city, to access medical treatment for his daughter, that London saw a steady influx of wealthy Indians. After his daughter’s untimely death from leukaemia, Paul made London his home from there on and in 1996 was made a life peer, becoming Baron Paul of Marylebone. Today, Britain has seen its own roster of British-Asian billionaires in such reports as the annual Sunday Times Rich List, with the likes of Karan Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer and Bijay and Bikhu Patel, the founders of Waymade Healthcare to name but a few.
The arrivals are coming thick and fast, such as steel magnate and the world’s sixth richest man Lakshmi Mittal and brothers Shashi and Ravi Ruia of Essar Group. Each and every one are spending lavish amounts on vast properties in London’s most exclusive areas, such as Chelsea, Belgravia and Kensington, as well as buying up sprawling estates up and down the country, thus giving a much need injection to the stagnant British property market. The Bollygarch invasion is well and truly in full swing.
Aside from the benefits of London’s economic centre, as the Editor at Large of Country Life, Clive Aslet wrote about the Bollygarch’s love affair with Britain “they like Britain’s public schools, our legal system and lack of corruption. At home, these spectacularly successful businessmen are celebrities; just like Bollywood stars. In the UK, they can relax – even the very rich are generally safe from kidnap, and while we might not have thought much of our climate recently, the British weather is considerably more temperate than that of Mumbai.” According to the Indian marketing guru Suhel Seth.”Remember that the beauty about an Indian,” says this irrepressive phrasemaker, “is that he always wants to demonstrate to the folks back home that he has arrived. He wants to be more British than the British, but also to prove to his erstwhile colonial master that he can cock a snook at them.”
Whatever the reasons for their continued fascination with the old city and Britain at large the Bollygarchs are giving a recession weary London something to smile about.