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Taming India’s Elite

It is still too early to gauge the impact of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's economic and foreign policies. But there is one area where his government is making palpable progress: taming the entrenched family dynasties that control the top echelons in every sphere of public life.

NEW DELHI – It has been more than a year and a half since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power on a promise to build a new India, one founded on a radical break with the past. It is still too early to gauge the impact of his economic and foreign policies, but there is one area where his government is making palpable progress: taming India’s entrenched elite.

India has a population of 1.2 billion people, but it has long been dominated by a tiny elite: a couple of hundred extended families, totaling perhaps 4,000-5,000 people. Many countries have powerful elites with outsize influence, but in India, dynastic elites control the top echelons in every sphere of public life: politics, business, the media, and even Bollywood.

Many of these dynasties have roots that stretch back to the colonial era, implying at least seven decades of dominance. Every point of leverage – from government contracts and industrial licenses to national awards – is used to maintain this ecosystem of power.

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