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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

MILLIONAIRES

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FOR SHEER EXCLUSIVITY, NOTHING beats the Chambers, a club located in Bombay's luxurious Taj Mahal hotel. Its members are almost all millionaire tycoons. In 1990, the atmosphere there was rather subdued. India's economy was sluggish. The magnates yearned for foreign investment that would bring new business opportunities.

Then came the mid-term poll in 1991 that swept the Congress party to power. The Chambers bigwigs urged the new regime to dismantle the command economy. Under a process of accelerated reforms, foreign firms were offered attractive incentives. India finally opened up. The Chambers rejoiced.

But not for long. By 1993, foreign businessmen were pouring in. The moguls were suddenly worried. "In our excitement to get multinationals into the country," recalls one industrialist, "we had forgotten that the government would alter the rules [for them] so that Indian industry was at a disadvantage."

The tycoons -- Rahul Bajaj, the Tatas, Dhirubhai Ambani among others -- met at the Chambers to discuss the situation. Two of them -- Hari Shankar Singhania and Lalit Mohan Thapar -- wrote a report asking the government to "create a level playing field" by reducing restrictions on local companies so they could compete more effectively with foreigners. The media dubbed this fraternity the Bombay Club.

Eventually, the club's members teamed up with the very foreigners they wanted cut down to size. But much to their discomfort, the multinational partners soon began asserting themselves. The topic of discussion in the club these days is about the "arrogance" of foreigners. Said one member: "There won't be a recognizable Indian brand in the consumer sector at the turn of the century." Unless Indian industrialists smarten up.


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