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Millennium Post

The Great Indian Middle Class saga

The Indian middle class has been feted and celebrated in various ways – a market, inveterate consumers, optimistic modernisers, and English-speaking globalisers. And the medium of television have proved to be a great equaliser – purveying the lowest common denominator of culture –  that has cut across the classes; but keeping the divisions in terms of the socio-economic denomination of caste intact, while keeping the acquisitive aspiration levels high for the hale and hearty.

So, when the TV anchors went ballistic, reporting noted sociologist, Ashis Nandy’s, alleged casteist comment at the Jaipur Literature Festival, it was clear that the ‘great’ Indian middle class which provides staff, stuff (content) and fodder to the television agencies, do not have the much desired, intellectually stimulating sense of irony.

For the last four decades, Nandy had been a kind of a resident sage of the public intellectual space providing incisive commentaries on the various sections of the fledgling state in search of a nation. This bit of insight about the 65-year-old independent India, Nandy’s more television-savvy colleague and political scientist, Yogendra Yadav, had provided a few years earlier.

Nandy’s intellectual arguments have been sharpened with time on the anvil of the new leftist, liberalism of the likes of Hannah Arendt. He had been a champion of the Dalits, tribals and minorities like Muslims for much of his scholarship. So the Jaipur comment of Nandy was nothing if not ironic, when he said he was hopeful of the Indian republic’s future because of the advent of the formerly oppressed sections of the society like the Dalits et al who now reside high on the corruption food chain of the country. The irony lay, in fact, in his faux ‘faith’ on the corruption food chain as a symbol of India’s inclusiveness. And clearly, since Nandy does not consider himself outside of the country’s social milieu, he was not necessarily excluding himself from the cavernous receptacle or the bottomless pit of corruption that seldom seems satiated.

As the recent series of scams, beginning with the telecom scandal, commonwealth games scandal, and coal allocation scandal and various others yet to be named have shown that the corruption scale has only increased upwards. The Rs 64-crore Bofors scandal or the thousand – odd crore rupees Sukh Ram’s telecom scandal seems piffling in comparision to the various lakh crore-rupee figures that were being bandied about, till Anna Hazare descended on the scene and an RSS-sponsored crowd that filled the Ram Lila Maidan.

While it did much to keep the spirits up for the fasting Hazare, it did little to stop or even stall the gravy train. In the same vein, many of the candle flames that sputtered at India Gate square did not stop the next day’s newspapers from printing news signifying an end to the rape and molestations of girls/women of various age brackets.

So the newly activist middle class is finally setting out from their TV homes and taking to the streets. But they are congregating to articulate inchoate demands that are seemingly disjointed with the politics of the day. Nandy must have been reflecting on that hiatus in his sub-conscious, when he made his comment.

But a curious thing would be to ask Nandy whether so many candles a ‘revolution’ make. He would then tell you about all those Dalits, tribals and Muslims who are not on the corruption gravy train that comes with a level of enfranchisement and empowerment. Most of this country’s 60 per cent population that live on less than two dollars a day do not have either.

An apparently aam aadmi party that the Congress Party is seeking to be – despite its fondness for bloodlines – is trying out various methods of distributive justice like the MGNREGA or Direct Cash Transfer – is failing to touch at the core of the problem. For, it is seeking to redistribute wealth, or what remains of it after being cycled through the thoroughly corrupt process of taxation.

There lies the nub of the problem. This kind of redistribution works only when the production relations are egalitarian both at the level of initiation and at the process of culmination and resources thus generated are divided between the producers on the law ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.’

No amount of vilification of Nandy would detract attention from the basic contradictions that exist. Neither would there be a few candles burnt at the India Gate for those who have to fight on a daily basis for food, shelter and clothing nor the elements of nature. That is the story of the Great Indian Middle Class (GIMC).  

The author is a senior journalist
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