There are two Indians in the top 5 ranks of the Forbes list of Billionaires in the world. They are Mukesh Ambani and Lakshmi Mittal. Many of us in India, including the media, react to such news with nationalistic fervor.
"Oh, this is a signal to the world that we are no longer a developing nation. We are rich. See how two of us are on the richest list" goes the thought.
Let us go through the list in detail. In the top 25, ten of them are from the US. The richest man on the planet however is Carlos Slim, the cement magnate from Mexico. Apart from Europe and Hong Kong, countries like Brazil and Saudi Arabia also find representation on the list.
Taking a look at the methodology, Forbes clarifies:
"Included in our tally are stakes in publicly traded and privately held companies, real estate, paintings, gems, yachts and planes, plus hoards of cash. Privately held companies are valued by coupling estimates of revenues or profits to valuation metrics for similar public companies. We look hard for debt but are not able to find all of it. "
Even looking at the two Indians on the list, Mukesh Ambani is the only one who is "really Indian" having helped build his father's empire and then inheriting and increasing its value. Lakshmi Nivas Mittal primarily grew his fortune in Europe and around the world and stays in London – retaining his Indian passport.
If anything the wealth of Mukesh Ambani is testimony to the growth of the core industries of petrochemicals, oil and gas. It also signals the growth of the Indian stock market – and the middle class Indians who invest in the stock market. However, to think of it as a signal of the larger growth of the Indian population would be grossly incorrect! The Indian economy is growing, but we still are a developing country and the Human Development Index figures are a far better source of India's place in this world than the number of billionaires we have on the Forbes list.