India's middle class still has to abide by the state's rules. Yet there is a danger that they will find ways to completely extricate themselvesby Yasmin Khan / October 27, 2007 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2007 issue of Prospect Magazine
Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad’s article on the Indian middle classes is important. There is a danger that the hype about India’s economic rise will begin to obscure the social and economic problems that still affect most Indians. Selective use of figures can distort or mask the realities of acute poverty. The widening gulf between rich and poor in India is made ever more obvious by the conspicuous consumption of western designer goods. All this is reinforced by historic patterns of development, which have skewed certain aspects of India in favour of the better off—the development of higher education at the expense of primary education is a good example—and the use of caste identities to underpin discrimination. As Ram-Prasad says, it needs reiterating that 300m Indians live on less than a dollar a day.
At the heart of Ram-Prasad’s article is the question of whether India’s middle class will become less introverted over time. Optimists and neoliberal economists would reply that the answer lies in trickle-down and the ever-widening circle of people who gain access to the ranks of the middle class. As the middle class grows, the theory goes, economic benefits will become dispersed more evenly, which will in turn radically alter the nature of politics. Earlier this year, the management consultants McKinsey suggested that by 2025, the Indian middle class will have expanded to nearly 600m, leaving only one fifth of Indians in the very lowest income band.