The September issue of Prospect, out today, marks the 60th anniversary of Indian independence by asking an uncomfortable question of India’s new middle class—why is it so uninterested in politics and social justice? In our cover story, Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad argues that aspects of India’s history and culture have helped shape a middle class—easiest the biggest in the world—that is largely apathetic about politics and the 300m Indians living in extreme poverty.
One reason for the introversion of India’s middle class, argues Ram-Prasad, arises from the great achievement of India: democracy. Whereas fighting for political representation was an important part of western middle-class experience in the 19th century, in India, political rights existed before the creation of a big middle class, and are now taken for granted by those who see their prosperity as entirely of their own making. In fact, India’s middle class, says Ram-Prasad, behaves in a similar manner to the apathetic consuming classes of today’s west, “concentrating on expanding its choice of lifestyles while taking political parties to be as bad as each other and non-party politics as hopelessly idealistic.”