Oct 10, 2010

The Great Indian Middle Class

Rama Bijapurkar has given reference to Pavan K. Varma's book "The Great Indian Middle Class" in her book, "We are Like that Only". Rama was critical of the book, as less data oriented and emotionally driven. But it causes an interest to read the book. And I don't repent for doing so.

Coming from a Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer, TGIMC has noted many subtle things in my subconsious. Its a good book, like another one I read the last to last year, "The Games Indians Play". The latter was a Game Theorish view on why the way we are as a society. The TGIMC dwells on the same subject, but treats the subject on a social scale. The same scale which can explain the more egalitarian movements in the developed world.

TGIMC begins with the journey of the rise of the Indian Middle Class. How it was influenced by Gandian thoughts of modesty in material desire and self control. The way how Nehru build the nation and spearheaded India into its path to development. The great institution building and importance of education given by the Indian Middle Class. The importance given to degrees resulted in mushrooming of institutes and universities in the country where the sole aim was to pass an exam, grab a job and settle. There was no buring desire to learn, argue and enrich socially as a person. Even the study of humanities constituted of remembering texts from some textbooks. Having a opinion was considered useless and the sole aim of education was to provide the industry and bureaucracy trained minds who agreed not to disagree. And all this was done at the cost of providing basic primary education. The cities enjoyed a proliferation of institutes often subsidized, where the villages did not even have schools with a full time teacher. Initially there was a guilt towards the poverty. The poor we our people and it was imperative for the government to take care them. Taxation was welcomed and given statues of noble deed.

But it changed gradually. Death of Nehru and short tenure of Sahstri saw a proliferation of power games in politics. The rise of Indiara Gandhi saw the emergence of a new social order. Corruption entered social life like never before. In fact corruption was institutionalized. It was okey if work was being done. The growth of Indian economy fueled it the most. Ironically the middle class was critique of corruption, yet its greatest benefiter. The muteness of people during Emergency, rather support to some of the decisions made it clear that the middle class could change its loyalties to any system of governance as long it satiated its interests.

Enters the liberalization in the 90's. Globalization is the buzz word and the middle class in India is considered at par with the one in developed world. Its size and consumption patterns are valued, judged and marketing strategies are devised. Now its imperative for the government to see that there is enough consumption. Like never before "its not our job" approach is taken by the government in sectors like health care and basic education. The reality check, in a village Abdullaat some 10 kilometers from the Sugar Hub of Ichaalkaranji, the kids in government schools don't know to write their names. The similar situation exists in villages in Maval, around 25 kilometers circumference of the Rajiv Gandhi IT Park. The media, rubbishy urban centric shows the statistics of Indian growing at a pace like never. They never care to see the Human Development Index. The result? Attempted suicide of a  model gets hours and hours of press coverage, deaths of faremers confines to mere lines on the newspapers. This is somewhere wrong, but the beneficiaries fail to reckon. But the mass population of India doesn't allow the BJP to come back to power in spite of Indian being shinning!

The author makes many points clear. Although his analysis may not be backed by enough data, one can relate to him. the apathy of the well to do towards the people who make them well to do but cannot be ignored. Interestingly its in its own selfish good to take care and help the poor. The author has presented many ways one may do it.

TGIMC is a good read more so because it ends with a positive affirmative note, which is difficult when one deals with the oblivious facts of our negligence, ruthlessness or sometimes even  jubilation over the state of social affairs in India. 

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