This was originally published as “When Donald Trump Came to Mumbai” in the Economic & Political Weekly (EPW), Vol.51, Issue No. 23, 4 June 2016.
It was first presented at the workshop “Constructing Asia: Materiality, Capital and Labour in the Making of an Urbanising Landscape” at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, 12–13 May 2016, supported by the Singapore Ministry of Education Research Fund Tier 1 (FY 2015 – FRC 2- 019).
Thanks to the workshop organisers, Drs Eli Asher Elinoff and Malini Sur, as well as Sri Chandrashekhar D. Chore, Deputy Municipal Commissioner (Improvements), Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM).
In an interview to Forbes India magazine in September 2014, Donald Trump made a characteristically outrageous statement. “Your real estate is unbelievably cheap… Mumbai is a great city and yet it is not priced like other comparable cities. It is priced lower than cities that are less important. That gives investors a tremendous amount of growth potential” (Srivastava 2014). While not as controversial as his more recent slurs in his campaign for the U.S. presidency, Trump’s hyperbole nonetheless was big news in India, where Mumbai’s housing market is by far the most expensive in the country.
Since the liberalisation of the Indian national economy in the 1990s, Mumbai (then Bombay) had routinely made headlines for its pricy real estate, which is more often compared to more prosperous global cities like London or New York than to its peers in India such as Delhi, Chennai or Bangalore.
Trump’s value proposition perhaps made some sense from his perspective as a foreign investor, going by prevailing market exchange rates between the U.S. Dollar and Indian Rupee (around USD $1 = Rs 60-62). By most measures, the price of real estate in Manhattan in the same period was anywhere between $1,250-1,500 per square foot, whereas in prime areas in Mumbai in 2014 around Rs 40,000-50,000, or USD $650-$800.