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Trials and tribulations of billionaires

Traditional superrich do not approve of more and more commoners getting entry

Gulf News

Awards and controversies are as inseparable as the two sides of a coin. It takes almost a new theory of relativity to understand what transpires between the conceptualisation of an award and its conferment. Whether it is a simple self-instituted honour, of which there is great proliferation these days, or one that is keenly awaited by the whole world, a number of x-factors are at work.

The uncanny controversy over the latest Forbes list of billionaires, which ranked Saudi investor Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal way below what he considers as his legitimate standing, only highlights how these extraordinary lists satisfy the ego of the world’s billionaires. With the new technology and business models acting as a great leveller, the traditional variety of superrich does not quite approve of the idea of more and more commoners getting entry and crowding the elite club. This often leads to unsettling of established positions on the list, which the billionaires get used to as their own by right.

Al Waleed has since announced his parting of ways with Forbes and ending of all cooperation his Kingdom Holding had been extending to the representatives of the magazine, which typically brings out how these awards processes actually play out. Both sides have their own justifications for their respective positions, with Al Waleed insisting that some of his recent high profile investments, which would have ranked him several points higher, were not taken into account while Forbes maintains that it has strictly followed standard procedures.

To put its records straight, Forbes has announced it would continue to count Al Waleed on its billionaires list as it describes the exercise as an independent initiative, irrespective of whether the listed billionaires agree or disagree with the conclusions. But it is common knowledge that in most cases the final members of the list get there because they desire to be there. The conferring of an award or title generally involves many factors, including power lobbying, often with the help of hired professional groups, ‘cooperation’, consultations and at times neat ‘buyouts’ as it happens with many of the corporate benchmarkings. A number of extraneous considerations go into the final pickings.

Forbes has incidentally thrown light on how some of the billionaires, including Al Waleed, have lobbied with the judging panel and helped in putting their respective claims forcefully. For, a position lower or upper can mean a world of difference to inflated egos.

Regionally, we have seen how banks and other companies use these accolades as a marketing plank to push their brands and products and gain an edge over competitors who didn’t make it for obvious reasons. So these awards become very much a part of the marketing strategies and carry significant return on investment (RoI) values and therefore the bargain for a higher rank becomes perfectly justifiable.

It is very much the same story with government –sponsored awards and titles. The annual Padma series of awards announced every year by the Indian government, recognizing valuable service rendered by individuals to art, literature and the promotion of Indian values and culture, are mired in controversy as the nominations often defy all logic and sense of propriety. The blatantly callous attitude of those who are in charge has seen persons already decorated once being nominated again for the same award, but to the bewilderment of the general public, such occurrences produce little embarrassment to the politicians or the bureaucrats.

With the Gulf region being home to a large number of highly successful Indians, these awards are in great demand here, making the region a happy hunting ground for the politicians, who even have unwritten quotas for interests groups, all in return for a consideration. And the aspirants are every ready to play the game in its true spirit.

In fact, the nominations, pre-award endorsements and recommendations, the citations, post-award compliments, the grand felicitations and all play out like parts of a perfect script, prepared in advance and planned to the minutest detail. Neither those who give nor those who receive find anything wrong in the arrangement.

The writer is a UAE-based journalist.