Monday, September 3, 2007

India's middle class and development

This section of India is as much talked about as the economic boom. Naturally so, because it's the middle class that is fuelling the boom. I stumbled on this analytical article -- India's middle class failure by Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad. The author says that the economic boom will have little meaning unless the middle class engages itself politically. But the author doesn't clearly say how they can do it in a way different from how the middle class engages now.

While there is lot of truth in what the author postulates, one must remember that politics as an institution in India is far from evolved, even though we have had 60 years of trouble-free democracy, stable government transitions etc. We have had good governments and ministers (who are good individually), but we haven't had any good governance, especially at state and village levels, which matter the most.

If middle class in India has to participate in politics, and by extrapolation, I mean, in governance, there has to be decentralisation of governance, not in theory but in practice. Even this (panchayati raj, which former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi began) is a total failure.

If, for example, something as basic as road has to be repaired, a citizen (middle class usually) doesn't know whom to call up, if at all he or she is able to call up, there is no proper response, if at all someone responds, there is no clear guarantee that the problem is set right; and at the end of the whole process, the road is just not repaired, for days and months together. There is no accountability. This is because, development is linked to politics.

In the south Indian state of Kerala, the public works department minister is on his way out, and as a result the tarring of roads has come to standstill. Can one believe that! Look at how the state of road is linked to state minister. This is not the way it should be.

Glitzy malls are fine, but where is the road to get to the mall? Lots of colleges are fine, but where is the electricity to run them, and for children to sit and study. Malls are good to look at, and shop in them, but they themselves are no indicator of the citizens' standard of living. It's a huge myth. More malls don't mean the society is more developed. The development indices are still the same: the basic amenities for citizens like food, shelter, clothing, transportation and other necessities that make one's daily life comfortable.

Middle class can involve themselves in societal development only if basic development activities are depoliticised. We need good road irrespective of the party in power. There can't be politics in development issues.

What is needed is not more political involvement by middle class, but more involvement in social reconstruction in a depoliticised environment. For that, first politicians will have to let go of their monopoly on development.

PS: This blog is being cross posted on The Prospect Magazine blog.

1 comment:

  1. if only the government servant whichever be the level, became honest - i wonder if, when , how....