India’s Urban Class Must Lead


Over the past year or so, the disenchantment of India’s urban population has been cited as a major cause of India’s problems. While the urban population is often taken to be synonymous with the “middle class,” it also includes “corporate India” and the extremely rich – those who are far above the middle-income bracket in India.

Urban India’s frustration and discontent is quite understandable given that the current United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime, which has been mired in graft charges, has bungled a number of issues, especially the economy. This has slowed economic growth, and increased inflation, especially over the past year. The latest casualty has been the job market.

Yet the mindset of the urban Indian is tough to fathom and seems a tad confused and contradictory, not to mention myopic. There is more than one factor.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

First, while the middle class speaks of an aspirational India, large sections are willing to support Arvind Kejriwal‘s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). This is evident from the surveys carried out for the upcoming state elections in Delhi, where AAP is a serious player. The AAP has been able to capture the imagination of large swathes of the population because of its strong stand against corruption, and by taking advantage of the anti-Congress mood prevalent across the country.

Nevertheless, it would be fair to say that there is nothing particularly aspirational about the AAP’s program, although it may be inspirational to some. Beyond this, the AAP has no cohesive economic agenda, apart from criticizing mainstream political parties. In fact, it has not even addressed civic issues such as sanitation and garbage disposal, which are serious problems afflicting New Delhi. In would also be pertinent to point out that companies and wealthy individuals, who do not have a squeaky-clean reputation themselves, are willing to support the AAP. This has definitely done more harm than good to the AAP’s credibility, and has exposed the hypocrisy among India’s urban classes.

Second, while on the one hand sections of the middle class are averse to a nanny state, seldom do they show initiative in joining hands for programs such as cleanliness drives and sustainable projects for cleaning up their respective cities. Instead they wait for the government to take the lead. While in certain parts of India – especially the South and Maharashtra – NGOs have shown the way forward and private citizens have come together for good causes, this initiative is clearly lacking in the urban classes of India, especially New Delhi. This is evident from the large mounds of garbage often found just outside posh residential complexes.

Last but not least, in addition to the disenchantment with poor governance as well as corruption, urban India also complains about the welfare schemes introduced by the UPA. There is no doubt that the Food Security Bill and populist measures pushed by the Congress-led UPA are detrimental to the economy, particularly in the way they have been devised and thrust on the nation. However, it is worth noting that a more efficient manner of affirmative action is needed and cannot be evaded. The key of course is to ensure that the money spent on welfare schemes does not go to waste, and is specifically targeted towards communities which are in need of assistance. If disparities do continue to rise, urban India will bear the brunt of the consequences.

It is imperative that instead of behaving like a victim, urban India have a clear vision for the country. It is also important for it to be as cognizant of its duties, as it is of its rights.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based columnist.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief