Poverty is still rampant in India and chaos remains a defining characteristic. But the country is also a global leader in high tech, has become the world's leading weapons importer and is planning a mission to Mars. On the way to superpower status, India must first overcome deep-seated corruption and internal division.
It's the most expensive private dwelling in the world, but it isn't in Los Angeles, London or Dubai. It's in Mumbai, just a few stone's throws from one of the world's biggest slums. The property is called "Antillia," named after a mythical island in the Atlantic that the persecuted developed into a refuge.
The new home of Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani is a steel-and-glass collection of superlatives thought to be worth $1 billion (?800 million). The 27-story structure has three helipads on its roof, nine elevators, a movie theater and crystal chandeliers in multiple rooms, from the ballroom to the parking garages. There are 168 parking spaces in the six lower floors for the luxury cars of Ambani, 55, who is also known as "Mister Big." He is the chairman and CEO of Reliance Industries, a conglomerate with holdings in oil fields, solar-panel manufacturers, pharmaceutical firms and textile companies. Ambani, one of the 20 richest men in the world, once gave his wife, Nita, an Airbus A319 jetliner for her birthday -- not a gold-plated model, but the real thing, with, of course, a somewhat more upscale interior than usual.
Ambani's Mumbai residence provides roughly 37,000 square meters (about 394,000 square feet) of living space for its six residents: Ambani and his wife, their three children and his mother. In the Dharavi slum, a 30-minute drive to the north, an estimated 12,000 people live in about the same amount of space, often without running water, toilets or electricity. In fact, more than 60 percent of Mumbai's 18 million residents still live in slums. But aside from a little grumbling in the local press (the Indian Express described the house as "obscene"), there is little evidence of outrage.
The poorest of the poor would seem to view Ambani's Villa Megalomania with indifference, while it is even a source of pride for some members of the Indian middle class, who apparently see it as evidence of India's growing importance in the world. "The Palace of Versailles is a poor cousin by comparison," writes columnist Shobaa De, brimming with national pride.
A Power on the Rise There is no doubt that India feels that it has arrived. Some of its politicians and business leaders believe it has reached a status as a third superpower, alongside the United States and China. On August 15, the country celebrated the 65th anniversary of its independence from British rule with elaborate parades. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 79, promised: "No power in the world can stop our country from achieving new heights of progress and development."
Reasons for the growing pride are not hard to find. Based on purchasing power parity, the economy is the world's third-largest. High-tech centers, such as Bangalore and Hyderabad, have given rise to IT companies like Infosys and Wipro, which are among the international elite in their industry and are now bringing back the computer experts who once left Indian for California to chase higher salaries.