In recent years, the so-called "Howard Roark effect" has swept across wealthy Indian society. Shortly after winning Miss India Earth, the country's top beauty pageant, in 2005, Niharika Singh cited The Fountainhead as her favorite book. "Ayn Rand helped me win the crown," she declared. Other stars, including biotech queen Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, actress Preity Zinta, and soccer-player-turned-dancer Baichung Bhutia have all credited Rand with helping them succeed.
Beyond personal inspiration, however, the Indian excitement for Rand today is linked to a larger enthusiasm for the country's inchoate but powerful drive for development and wealth. Since the 1984 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, India has seen a gradual shift away from socialism, much appreciated by Rand's fans. Vikram Bajaj, a 45-year-old entrepreneur who considers himself an objectivist, has lived through Rand's evolution from an ignored outsider to a popular prophet of capitalism. When he discovered Rand, taxation rates for high earners were hovering at 85 percent of income; now, with her books widely available, that upper rate is only 30 percent.
Barun Mitra is the founder and director of the Liberty Institute, which hopes to be India's equivalent of the United States' libertarian Cato Institute and has recently received a grant from an American foundation to launch a Web initiative promoting "Ayn Rand in India." He has been a Rand devotee since the early 1980s and even met his wife through a Rand discussion group.
To Mitra, Rand offers a blueprint for India to develop as a democratic and capitalist society at the same time. He hopes that Rand and her libertarian doctrines can enable India to provide a counterexample to the so-called "Asian model" of economic development, which holds that a certain level of authoritarian government and stifled liberty is a prerequisite for a surging economy. If India can achieve double-digit growth while remaining democratic, Mitra thinks, it could become a model for the rest of the world. Rand's philosophy, Mitra says, can help Indians "moor ourselves to fundamental economic and moral principles."
It's unclear whether Rand will ever become the definitive textbook of modernization for India: Her ideas about religion, capitalism, and society are too anathema to India's traditional culture ever to be adopted completely. But Rand will continue to inspire India's emerging creative class and corporate titans, not to mention the ambitious youth who make up her most passionate fan base, in India as around the world. For those fans, Ayn Rand is truly a prophet of things to come.