The Billionaire Raj
A Journey Through India's New Gilded Age
A colorful and revealing portrait of the rise of India’s new billionaire class in a radically unequal society
India is the world’s largest democracy, with more than one billion people and an economy expanding faster than China’s. But the rewards of this growth have been far from evenly shared, and the country’s top 1% now own nearly 60% of its wealth. In megacities like Mumbai, where half the population live in slums, the extraordinary riches of India’s new dynasties echo the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers of America's Gilded Age, funneling profits from huge conglomerates into lifestyles of conspicuous consumption.
James Crabtree’s The Billionaire Raj takes readers on a personal journey to meet these reclusive billionaires, fugitive tycoons, and shadowy political power brokers. From the sky terrace of the world’s most expensive home to impoverished villages and mass political rallies, Crabtree dramatizes the battle between crony capitalists and economic reformers, revealing a tense struggle between equality and privilege playing out against a combustible backdrop of aspiration, class, and caste.
The Billionaire Raj is a vivid account of a divided society on the cusp of transformation—and a struggle that will shape not just India’s future, but the world’s.
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. Weaving in interviews with politicians, central bankers, and industrial tycoons, he concludes that a lack of state capacity in India the famously byzantine business licensing system, as well as low levels of investment in infrastructure has contributed to rent-seeking and crony capitalism on the one hand and populist politics with a Hindu nationalist tinge on the other. An inside look into the corridors of power, this is an invaluable commentary on Indian democracy and the forces that threaten it.