Mangalorean Catholic Business Icons Among India’s Wealthiest: A Glimmer of Hope for the Future
Dr Joseph Rasquinha
The 2022 IIFL Hurun list of richest Indians has a few Mangalorean Catholics among them, the most prominent being Errol Fernandes.
As per Wikipedia, the Mangalorean Catholics in historical South Canara number around 360,000 people. If you add the Mangalorean Catholics outside this region, including those abroad, the total number would be around 500,000. But the small community of Mangalorean Catholics has always overachieved in all aspects of life. Whether it’s politics (George Fernandes), sports (Viren Rasquinha), acting (Freida Pinto), or any of a slew of other notables who have done great things for the community. However, one that stands out as a beacon for the future of the community is the Mangalorean Catholic achievers in the IIFL Hurun List.
The achievement is even greater if you look at comparative data. Mangalorean Catholics as a part of the Indian population are 0.03%. If you take the largest population of the IIFL Hurun list, which is mostly entrepreneurs from Gujarat, then the comparison is stunning. Gujarat comprises 4.5% of India’s population. Of course, you also have the Parsis, who are a much more impressive percentage when it comes to their entrepreneurs compared to the overall Indian population, but they have not had the immense difficulties that the Mangalorean Catholics have faced over the last few centuries. Difficulties which immediately after the Tipu era moved us from one of the richest communities in India to a highly marginalised one with a question mark on its survival and relevance.
Sounds surprising? That is because many didn’t realise the history of how strong the Mangalorean Catholic community was in business and how wealthy it was prior to the Tippu era. A renaissance in this regard to understanding our culture has started to happen with great contributions from authors and genealogists like Michael Lobo, Alan Machado, and others. When the Keladi Nayak Kings welcomed the Mangalorean Catholics into South Kanara 350 years ago, they brought enormous skills and capital, making them the state’s richest community. The era of Tippu Sultan, where he destroyed over 80% of the community, put us back over 200 years, as shown in the IIFL Hurun list. And it is just the tip of the iceberg. For every Errol Fernandes and the others who have achieved so much, there are a large number of entrepreneurs and other professionals who are not far off, and who, with a little encouragement from the community, can be expected to be part of this list in the coming future.
But why are we so confident of these numbers for the future? History has shown us that when wealthy communities get devastated to the extent that Tippu Sultan destroyed us, most of them regress, or become so marginalised that they almost disappear. Although Mangalorean Catholics lost wealth, position, and family during the Tippu era, they came back in a different avatar. Most became administrators, coffee planters, and educationalists, and a lot of them went to other cities before going to the Gulf in the 1950s. Business, which was the community’s forte until the Mysore oppression was put on hold.
Now it is back with a bang! And what many don’t realise is that it is an actual strength of the community, not a flash in the pan due to the success of the few talented individuals in the IIFL Hurun list. There is an enormous depth of businesses and entrepreneurs that can propel the community to its glory days prior to the Tippu era. We hear with justification that India used to be the richest country in the world before the British. We had 25% of the world’s GDP then. Today, we have 3.8% of the world’s GDP and still have a long way to go. But not the Mangalorean Catholics. They have arrived!
The IIFL Hurun list has shown that the community will grow even stronger and we can expect more people on the list. Kudos to people like Errol Fernandes and the others who have shown us the way!
A Ph.D. in Economics from St. Andrews, ranked the No. 1 university in the UK, beating Oxford and Cambridge in 2022. He is also the author of 2 books and over 40 articles in newspapers, entrepreneur.com, and well-known online news media and journals, with experience in the UK, Middle East, Singapore, China, and India across various domains.