November 07, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexander Rublev


New tycoons capitalize on oriental beliefs and caste psychology

The latest rating list of richest individuals, issued by Fortune magazine in October, revealed a new sensation: Mukesh Ambani, a citizen of India, outstripped Bill Gates and Mexican oligarch Carlos Slim with a fortune of $63.2 billion. Days later, The Times hurried to denounce this calculation, insisting that Ambani's capitals were overestimated by several billions USD. This correction looks largely ideological, as the image of Bill Gates, the glorified pioneer of information technologies, represents a sort of the visit card of the global postindustrial community.

Leading in the list of billionaires for fourteen years, Bill Gates used to symbolize the intellectual superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race, and the triumph of the supposed "economy of knowledge". Portrayed as an ascetic, a technocrat and a genius of management, Gates was supposed to remain a godlike figure of the epoch’s wonderworker, a subject of a myth disseminated in the image of Harry Potter.

Mukesh Ambani's success is not surrounded with any romantic legends; he rather personifies a classical type of tycoon of the last quarter of the XIX century. One of the two heirs of Dhirubhai Ambani, founder of Reliance Industries, India's major petrochemical corporation, he contested his younger brother Anil for the patrimony. Anil's own fortunes are now estimated at $30 billion.

Contrary to Bill Gates, Mukesh Ambani does not bother to deserve the mankind's gratitude. Moreover, he demonstrates blatant indifference to the rest of fellow creatures. He is presently trying to outgun King Louis XIV, launching construction of a new Versailles right in the center of Mumbai, among slums populated by compatriots earning $1 per day. The 27-storey palace is going to include a park, a theater, a fitness center, a helipad, and a multitude of bungalows for respectable guests, to be serviced by 600 footmen. Total investments are estimated at $2 billion.

Not everybody in India watches this vanity fair with satisfaction. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh delicately urged the billionaire to display just a bit of modesty. After all, 500 million Hindus are unable not only to read and write but also to enjoy conveniences of running water, sewage and electricity. More 400mln can afford daily bread but still belong to the poorest layer of the population in accordance with UN standards.

Still, Ambani's luxurious way of life has not yet echoed with massive resentment. While in the Orthodox Christian view, covetousness and gluttony are regarded as deadly sins, the Hinduist tradition views social stratification from a different viewpoint. This religion admits the inborn division of humans into castes, an individual's social status believed to be predetermined with karmic merits, deserved in earlier incarnations. This difference sheds light on the outspoken hostility of the transnational oligarchy towards Christianity and fascination with Oriental cultures.

Lower castes are not supposed to express any dissatisfaction with their miserable level of life. Leftist radical movements are popular in several Indian states of the North-East, but their activity could be rather explained with influence of Chinese Maoism.

The Ambani family does not have to fear of state authorities, as India's ruling political class is by 80-90% recruited from similarly well-to-do citizens. 84% members of the federal Parliament own fortunes exceeding 1 billion rupees ($22 million), one fourth possessing over 10 billion rupees ($220 million). Around 4% of India's population, hired by Western companies, comprise a sort of a "nation inside a nation", generally satisfied with the social status quo.

In Western media, Indian capitalism is frequently portrayed as an "advanced model of development", being praised for its dynamic, efficient and "resource-saving" properties. The latter advantage obviously reflects efficiency of use of low-paid labor, kept in stone-age conditions in the XXI century.

A year ago, this website published a series of discussions between writer Maxim Kalashnikov and historian Andrei Fursov (Russian text see here), who anticipate emergence of a "society of new slaveholders", in which the ratio of rich and poor constitutes 1 to 4, while the middle class does not exist as such. Such a type of society represents exactly a caste hierarchy system with strong restrictions for education for the majority, "real knowledge" regarded as a privilege of "the race of the masters".

In today's India, described as a model Asiatic democracy, this scenario is conveniently implemented in an "advanced" fashion, the ratio of rich and poor reaching 1 to 25. This social system may be viewed as a precondition for a new social order, well described in Jack London's "Iron Heel".

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