News has just come of Virat Kohli, the captain of the Indian cricket team, signing an endorsement contract for a period of eight years for more than Rs. 100 crore with Puma, the German manufacturer of sports goods,. This has brought young Virat in the “Rs. 100 crore Club”. Among cricketers, he is perhaps the third player to cross the 100 crore mark with Sachin Tendulkar and Mahandra Singh Dhoni preceding him.
But Virat has been a “crorepati” (billionaire) several times over even before he signed the Puma contract. He has been on the scene for quite some time and has acquitted himself very well ever since his debut in the national team. No wonder, brands have been chasing him and he has been signing product endorsement contracts that suit his persona. Slowly and surely he has developed an iconic status among the country’s cricket-crazy youth who never seem to get enough of him.
So, the air in the country is getting thick with news of crorepatis and aspiring crorepatis. For those of us who are now ancient, having been born in the first half of the last century, the talk of crores creates a disconcerting bewilderment. Having been born and brought up in the days of “rupees, annas and pies” a crore of rupees seemed so distant, so formidable. The school fees used to be paid in paises and in college it used to be a few odd rupees. Even that would be halved if and when two or more siblings would be in the same college. After post graduation getting a job fetching a salary from Rs. 300 to Rs. 500 would be considered creditable as it would be reckoned to be out of the ordinary.
Parents would go looking for a groom for their daughters whose salary would be in four figures. The classified ads used to be littered with such ads. Nursing the ambition, the parents labored hard all their lives to bring up their daughters nurturing them to make them good enough for a four-figure-salaried groom. Then, even if one takes the Hindi movies of the late 1940s or early 1950s lakhpati, a man with a hundred thousand or more but with less than a crore, was what a businessman or an industrialist was known as. Beyond that, a crore, was perhaps unimaginable and none would seem to have ever bothered to attempt making a crore. Only a filthy rich or a decadent landlord or a corrupt and black-marketeering baniya could perhaps salt it away, if at all, and, if he managed to do that, he wouldn’t flinch from flaunting it in the midst of the surrounding abject poverty.
The by-and-large innocent society was seemingly administered a shock, as it were, with the advent of Indira Gandhi whose reign in 1960s and 1970s was known for its “briefcase” culture. Her ministers and even her younger son started playing around with mammoth amounts of cash. One remembers LN Mishra, the then Commerce Minister, who would get regular supplies of briefcases brimming over with cash, and would use them for ascending channelization of their contents. The briefcases, would never be returned to their rightful owners. Corruption had become so rampant that everybody in politics was involved in it. Indira Gandhi’s supporters in the Parliament began attacking her saying she was sitting on a pile of black money. The era of collecting crores had effectively dawned, albeit, in illegitimate cash.
High inflation was a natural corollary – high inflation breeding higher prices and still higher inflation, all the time shearing away the value of the rupee that used to be so precious once upon a time. Then in 1990s came the economic reforms, a change over from pseudo-socialism to pseudo-capitalism. Business and industry, nonetheless, flourished spawning many more crorepatis, few legit but more illegit.
To come back to cricketing billionaires, it is only now that the game of cricket has spawned a few billionaires. Earlier they used to be paid a pittance and even big names like Nawab Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was paid a very meager allowance for a five-day test match. Those days the game was generally played for the love of it. Things changed drastically after its professionalization. Consequent on the acquisition of the distribution rights to TV channels, the Board of Control for Cricket in India became the richest cricketing organization in the world. While this shifted the centre of gravity of cricket from London to Mumbai, the ever-flowing cash enabled it to pay handsome retainer fees in a graded manner to cricketers of various levels in the country. Thus there are many who have made a few crores over the last few years even without signing mouth-watering endorsements. Then, of course, the Indian Premier League (IPL) brought a windfall for them.
Cricket is an area where new-age crorepatis jostle around the stadia. The other area is the IT and Management fields where virtually every person who has come out of IITs or IIMs is a crorepati. They are so because of their brains which fetched them jaw-dropping packages in placements right in the institutes where they undertook their courses. The film industry is another one where, whether you deliver box-office hits or not, you get paid lavishly to boost your finances to make you a crorepati. Once you put across a box-office hit you, kind of, hit the jackpot. Multi-crorepatis in the film industry are numerous who lead a fabled life with luxury homes in India and/or abroad and stables crammed with luxury or high-end cars.
Businesses and industry, of course, have their respective shares of billionaires but, generally, they keep their financial information under wraps for fear of the tax-man. Among the businessmen and industrialists only 97 super-wealthy were reported by the Wall Street Journal in 2015. In an economy that boasts of being worth more than $ 2 trillion the number of declared billionaires would seem to be laughable. None knows who is at fault.
Likewise, politics is another ‘industry’ that breeds every five years a large number of super rich. Apart from the political movers and shakers, a large majority of legislators in states and at the Centre are crorepatis. It is not that their salaries and perks that make them so; most of them are corrupt and find myriad ways of accumulating illegal wealth. Even the meanest politician in a municipal corporation finds ways that facilely lead him to billions. Most of it is kept unaccounted to be used at the time of elections to bribe voters in exchange for votes.
India has come a long way from those modest days of early 20th century when it had a fat layer of hopelessly poor, a thin layer of middle classes and a micro-fine layer of rich and well-to-do. Today, on the other hand, though tax-paying crorepatis are reported to be only 18500 there are many more (excluding sporting and professional billionaires) who operate under the radars refusing to be recognized as crorepatis. While poor have shrunk in numbers the middle-classes have inflated.
No wonder lifestyles have changed and the market has upgraded itself to meet the demands of the rapidly generated billions. While Big B owns four bungalows in Mumbai’s costly land and gifts away a Bentley as a birthday gift to his son, others go for flats worth multi-crores churned out by the likes of Lodha or the ones in London’s Kensington or Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah. Likewise, while Lamborghinis and Rolls Royces adorn the garages of super-rich, Mercedes and Audis have become passe for our new-breed fat cats.
27th Frbruary 2017