Slumdogs and Billionaires


Written by Heydon Prowse
05 Friday 05th December 2008

Who exactly does want to be a millionaire in Mumbai? The answer is, pretty much everyone. And how many will actually become one? The answer to that – very, very few indeed.

Azharuddin Mo. Ismail as Salim in Slumdog Millionaire

India is fast becoming a hypercapitalist 21st- century superpower and has developed incredible wealth very quickly for a tiny minority – particularly in Mumbai. The top 10 percent of India’s population owns between 33 to 50 percent of the country’s wealth. And they are not afraid to flaunt it - some 1.8 million households earning $100,000 or more a year spend a tenth of that on luxury goods. India’s media also have a lot to answer for – waving such grotesque over consumption in the faces of the very poor with ‘lifestyle’ magazines such as the Hindustan Times' "Splurge" and Outlook's "Envy" advising the very rich on how to spend their millions.

Boyle himself described Mumbai as being “like New York in the 1980s.” The city alone has more billionaires than all of Scandinavia, but half the 13 million population lives in abject poverty.

Danny Boyle directing Slumdog Millionaire

Mumbai has suffered many attacks, but these latest ones are different from their numerous predecessors in that the militants clearly targeted symbols of wealth and the city's political and business classes.

Indian and US intelligence officials have been quick to throw blame at Pakistan for the attacks. But although it may be true that Pakistan’s army and shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have for decades supported terrorist groups and engineered acts of terror as an instrument of state policy, it is important to remember that India's own Muslim population is an oft-neglected minority, economically disenfranchised and increasingly radicalised. The Deccan Mujahideen who claim responsibility for the attacks have been linked to the Indian Mujahideen.

For an elite that almost always emerges unscathed from violence in the country, the attack came as a shock. But it’s not as if there was no warning. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has repeatedly called for the rich to tone down their excesses, warning that the toxic mix of an incredibly rich minority and teeming millions living on less than a dollar a day will not be accepted by the very poor for very long. "The time has come for the better-off sections of our society... to understand the need to make our growth process more inclusive, to eschew conspicuous consumption," Singh said in June.

In 2007 India was 94th out of 118 nations in the Global Hunger Index and in the UN’s Human Development Index (a composite of life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment, and GDP per capita) India scores 128 in the world, behind desperately poor countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Botswana, and even the occupied areas of Palestine.

Muslims in India have it particularly bad. They make up 13 percent of the population but less than five percent of government posts, and only four percent of university undergraduates. The Muslim poverty rate in urban areas is 38 percent - higher than low-cast Hindus.

Dharavi slum

Mumbai is home to some of Asia's largest slums where, according to government statistics, 60 percent of all city residents live. Dharavi is perhaps the largest of these - a dense labyrinth of dirt roads smack in the centre of Mumbai - next to a prime office district, and surrounded by three important railway lines. For these reasons it is soon to be levelled in order to build lucrative shopping malls and office blocks for the middle classes.slum

Development is rapid in Mumbai – perhaps unsustainably so. Slumdog’s screenwriter, Simon ‘The Full Monty’ Beaufoy, revisited one slum location that he found during his wanderings around Mumbai when researching the script. Returning to show Boyle a year later, he found the slum had disappeared and they were staring at a brand-new high-rise: “In a year! In Britain, it would take that long to put up a sign,” he said.

Ambani's planned £500m home

Living adjacent to these slums, but a universe away, are India’s wealthy elite such as Mukesh Ambani whose net worth is estimated at around $49billion, which he made largely out of oil refining and petrochemicals. Nice! Ambani is a close friend of Bollywood superstar and ex-Who Wants to be a Millionaire?presenter Amitabh Bachchan. The 50-year-old is currently building a £500million, 60-storey mansion for him and his family in Mumbai, which will also include accommodation for 600 members of staff.









However, steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal still leads the growing pack of Indian billionaires with a net worth of around $52 billion, making him the fifth richest man in the world. The 57-year-old spends most of his time in London where he lives in Bernie Ecclestone's former home in Kensington, which he purchased in 2004 for a reported £57.1million. In June 2004, Mittal paid Kylie Minogue a reported £200,000 to sing at the Paris wedding of his daughter.


Lakshmi Mittal, Indian billionaire industrialist

Modern-day maharajas like these have become the poster-boys of India’s new economic elite, but also the bête noire of the underclass. The promise of affluence must be fulfilled for the many, not just the few or India will be victim to more attacks and the consequences will be felt around the world.


'Taj Mittal': The tycoon's £57m Kensington home


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