In his article “As Old Values Die, How Will India’s New Modi-Loving Middle Class Shape The Future?”, (published in SCMP.com, September 18, 2018), Vir Sanghvi says:
“The upper middle class had been educated in English. It spoke the language well, read English-language newspapers and used Western cultural reference points. The lower middle class usually did not speak English that well but recognised that it was the only language that mattered in the workplace. When it came to politics, however, both levels of the middle class were broadly aligned. India had been created as a liberal democracy where all religions were equal and caste was an evil whose worst manifestations had to be curbed or even, stamped out.”
Sanghvi says till the late 1990s, the total middle class in Bharat ‘constituted only a tiny space at the top of the population pyramid.’ I think the correct date to be considered is 1977. However, I do not want to get into this aspect, because I wish to deal with the primary focus of Sanghvi – that the rising middle class has destroyed the consensus that was supposedly arrived at by the tiny middle class. The parameters of the consensus are the following three:
- A liberal democracy
- All religions were equal
- Caste was an evil
Sanghvi correctly states that the middle class grew because of three reasons:
- Changing the economic policies away from socialism, and towards liberalisation.
- Explosion in satellite TV channels, both news and entertainment. (What Sanghvi does not specifically say is that this explosion happened primarily in the Bharatiya languages, and not English.)
- A demographic dividend in terms of a young population.
But he laments that the new middle class does not accept the earlier consensus. What Sanghvi does not recognise is that the consensus achieved precious little on the three parameters mentioned above. He also does not analyse the achievement in other indexes which should also be considered to be what the people would aspire for.
For example this consensus ensured that until 1977 the economy grew by only 3% pa, the poverty level in 1980 was around 60%, the literacy rate increased only from about 20% in 1947 to less than 40%, there were serious shortages of basic industrial commodities like power, steel, cement, etc., and so on. The subsequent improved performance in the economic and social indexes was achieved despite the consensus.
Thus, the new middle class is really not setting aside the objectives that were set out earlier but the methods they applied to achieve them. Instead of taking the concerns of the new middle class on board, Sanghvi dismisses them primarily on the basis of their lack of proficiency in the English language. He says:
“… because so many younger members of the booming new middle class came from families that had previously not been English speakers or a part of the old middle class, they rejected the consensus about the kind of nation that India was.”
This disdain for the new middle class is similar to the disdain of Lenin towards literacy:
“In general, as you probably know, I am not particularly fond of intelligentsia, and our new slogan ‘eliminate illiteracy’ should by no means be taken as expressing a wish to give birth to a new intelligentsia. To ‘eliminate illiteracy’ is necessary only so that every peasant, every worker can read our decrees, orders and appeals by himself without anyone’s help. The goal is purely practical.”
Sanghvi cannot digest the revolt by the new middle class, because the latter is no longer willing to take orders without questioning.
Perhaps Sanghvi has realised that the new middle class wants accountability, which did not exist earlier. The old middle class lived a parasitic existence, sucking the hard earned resources generated by the people at large. It enabled them to have a life style which the new middle class were also aspiring for, but were being denied by the policies of the old middle class. Such a situation could not continue for long, because a parasite eventually destroys the body from which it sustains itself.
The old middle class set up institutions of tertiary education, like IITs and IIMs, and invested less in primary education. The former benefited the members of the old middle class, while the new middle class has come from the growth in primary schools (both government and private) that happened post-1980.
Even as the old middle class mouthed that caste is evil, they encouraged political parties to contest elections on the basis of such an identity. They talked all religions are equal, but said that the minorities (but not the poor) have the first right on nation’s resources. All that was achieved was creating a class of thekdars whose interest was to keep their respective communities in state of perpetual discontent.
The old middle class needs to accept that policies that enable providing opportunities for the people to increase their income is the right way to go forward. Not only has the rate of poverty come down substantially, but the number of poor in Bharat is less than a much smaller country like Nigeria.
The benefits of the policies of increased opportunities is also being enjoyed by the ones belonging to the religious minorities and those who are determined to be lower caste. After all, in a pyramid, the top is always small. If the middle class has to grow it will be necessarily be populated by those who are poor, even from the socially disadvantaged groups. The revolt against the old middle class is a truly proletariat movement.
Towards the end of his article, Sanghvi poses a question:
“(I)s the new middle class really going to create a solid and stable (even if different) India?”
If the old middle class did create a solid and stable Bharat, the new middle class would have no reason to complain. But, what can be expected of an upper middle class which is a deracinated lot, with no empathy for the civilizational norms of Bharat. Sanghvi has defined them (rightly, in my opinion) as follows: “It spoke the language well, read English-language newspapers and used Western cultural reference points.”
The old middle class will not be able to provide the necessary guidance to take the country forward. In the 1950s, Bharat was considered by many newly independent countries to be a guide for a prosperous (in economic and social terms) future, and so they followed the path that the old middle class had set. The results achieved were also the same as Bharat. Now, this old middle class needs to step aside, and allow a new leadership to take their place, so that the benefits are not just for the people of Bharat but also for other developing countries.
Bharat is being adopted by many people in the world, including in the developed world, as a spiritual guru, given the wide acceptance of Yoga and meditation as an important element in one’s life. By also being a material guru, it will complement the process of total well-being. It is not a question of being a super power in the old crude sense, but offering a responsible and accountable example for others.
(Featured Image only for representational purpose. Source)
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