The reforms of the 1990s accelerated the growth of income and poverty reduction, demonstrating the virtues of a competitive market economy powered by entrepreneurship. Consequently, India has moved over the last decade from being a low income democracy to a lower middle income one. The stirrings observed in Delhi during the past two years are a precursor of the emerging middle class, and political demands for better governance are likely to follow. The middle class has historically grown in every country along with income, and has demanded, and got, better governance in every (now) developed country. This process has been accelerated in India by the early establishment of democracy and a flourishing media.
The anti-corruption agitation of 2011, and the public outpouring of support for it, was a precursor. The common Delhi resident’s passionate outrage was less about the specific scam allegations relating to the CWG and telecom and more about the basic mistreatment of citizens by the government service providers (water, power, police, MCD). The new middle class, which has had a taste of freedom and equality in the marketplace, was fed up with the arrogance of local government functionaries and the humiliating treatment meted out by corrupt and self-serving officials, while their bureaucratic and political bosses hypocritically claimed to be “servants of the people.” The protests were an expression of outrage against the inequality between the government as service provider and the general public on the other side of the counter. Though both events would have been damp squibs without media attention, underlying them is a cry for attention to the citizen’s personal security and equal treatment to all, men and women, rulers and the ruled.
The 23-year-old woman who was gangraped migrated with her parents to Delhi from a village in Ballia district in eastern UP. She was training to be a physiotherapist, acquiring a skill that would earn her a decent income. She represented the dream of numerous families, including those who protested on the streets: women of all ages, income classes, castes and work categories, who saw something of themselves in her. She was the child of the new era of economic opportunity.
From the many definitions of “middle class”, I would emphasise the two most common shared elements: a level of income that is above the level needed for survival (including savings for emergencies), and a level of education and skills necessary to earn the posited