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Inida's New Middle Class Mantram

Hari Jaisingh

By Leela Fernandes
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 289, Rs. 575.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 12 December 2007

India has been in the thick of a revolution of rising expectations, visible more sharply for more than two decades. I believe that the new middle class, as is generally defined, is the by-product of high expectations thrown up by changing domestic opportunities and the atmosphere of liberalization generated by new forces of globalization at home and abroad.   To say this is not to deny glaring gaps between soaring expectations, slow political reflexes and red-tapism that the Indian system is still suffering from. The colonial mindset, calculated games of vote-bank politics, slow-moving machinery of reforms and ever-present hiatus between self-seeking leaders and the led, the iron grip of operators and power-brokers in the corridors of power have only added to the frustration and restlessness of the educated youth looking for new avenues for jobs and money-making outlets.   True, Indian society at all levels is undergoing a host of changes. Things are no longer static. The socio-economic structure is in a state of flux, which, though bordering on dynamism still seems to be in the clutches of no-changers. This is not peculiar to India. Every developing polity is invariably exposed to two opposite sets of forces—one promoting change and the other wedded to the status quo.   It is true that there are several stimulants in the Indian situation fostering changes despite innumerable obstacles and complexities. In the prevailing moribund system of governance and lopsided priorities, we see considerable dilution of enthusiasm of enterprising Indians. This hampers the urge of the new class of Indians to excel. Indeed their talent gets limited by their circumstances, surroundings, birth and caste labels.   The book under review tries to look at the new middle class in a scholarly perspective backed up by qualitative data, interviews, archival and secondary sources and complex jargon. The author is Associate Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, New Jersey (USA). She is right in saying that the Indian middle class has changed substantially both in its size and character since the 1990s. I am, however, of the view that the middle class has been showing signs of changes in its attitudes as well as character right from the seventies, though new opportunities began to show up from the time the process of liberalization was set in motion by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao with Manmohan Singh in the driver’s seat of economy and finance.   The author claims that ...

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