Remembering the Prince of Polyester

Mohandas Gandhi and Dhirubhai Ambani were the two most famous scions of the Modh Bania, a Hindu commercial caste based in the arid Saurashtra peninsula of India's western Gujarat state. The Mahatma idealized traditional village ways, passive resistance, and homespun cotton. Ambani, a billionaire industrialist, preached prosperity to a burgeoning Indian middle-class via a business empire built on polyester.

Each changed India. Ambani's public wore his textiles as durable suits and glittery saris. Indians invested by the millions in his Bombay-listed Reliance Industries, a sprawling conglomerate with $12.3 billion in annual sales that recently became India's first privately...

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