One of India's most eminent sociologists, Dipankar Gupta, has hit out at those who call themselves the “middle class”, saying they are not capable of sustained political action and leadership.
Calling them “elitist”, with disproportionate access to the State's patronage and resources, he dismisses them as agents of social or political change. “Their every step is compromised,” he says.
Gupta describes movements such as Anna Hazare's, or the public outcry and protests about rape and molestation of women, as “stop-gap movements”, which do not have a long-term perspective. He feels these movements come up only when issues boil over, and “their attempt is to say that things were wrong in some places and they needed to be corrected”.
“The issues of social dynamism, the uplift of entire society in terms of citizenship – these are things that are rarely attended to,” argues the former professor at Delhi's prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University.
In a detailed interview with Catch, Gupta surveys the last 70 years of Independence to analyse the emergence of a middle class (or the lack thereof) in the country.
There is no middle class in India, and it will not emerge unless the State itself takes up the project of creating a middle class, he declares.
Unlike in Europe, the State in India, Gupta argues, has not taken up the project of creating a middle class to bridge the gap between the privileged and the poor. Such a project to provide health, education, housing and insurance, among other things, for all citizens can only be taken up by the State, he argues.
“That is because it is a project which is massive and it must include everybody. It cannot keep anyone out. In other words, a State project of this sort will not target the population – you can't say that this is for the poor and that is for the rich. It will say (for example) that this is health for all, so that everyone feels that this is our health policy, our education policy,” he explains.
“If we segregate the population by saying 'health for the poor', 'education for the poor', 'housing for the poor', then you can take it for granted that you will have poor health, poor education and poor housing,” Gupta argues.
Watch the video interview to see what Gupta has to say about the Indian middle class, how it ought to be defined, why a proper middle class society has not emerged in India, and the possible role of the middle class in the political transformation of India.