Libmonster ID: IN-1231

In social and economic studies of developing countries, the problems of the middle class occupy a significant place. Interest in this topic increased when, under the influence of the global financial and economic crisis that began in 2009, developed economies began to talk about the erosion of the middle class, its reduction and, as a result, its role in the economy and politics.

In the countries of Asia and Africa, researchers note the opposite trend - an increase in the influence of the middle class. Interest in the positions and prospects of the middle class in the world's largest countries by population, China and India, has noticeably revived.

A recent book by the famous Indian researcher and publicist Pavan K. Varma "The New Indian Middle Class"(Pavan K. Varma. The New Indian Middle Class. (New Delhi, 2014, 101 p.), which introduces the reader to the peculiarities of the situation of the middle class in modern India, is not his first work on this topic.

The most famous monograph of P. Varma under the ambitious title " The Great Indian Middle Class. How to be an Indian" (The Great Indian Middle Class. Being Indian), published in 2008 at the peak of India's economic growth, accompanied by an increase in the number and income of the middle class. A natural consequence was consumerism, a necessary companion of economic success in lagging economies. The author emphasizes that an important factor in the accelerated formation of the Indian middle class was the liberal reforms of 1991, which weakened bureaucratic control over the economy.

The author's position of the book under review is obvious not even from its first pages, but from the title, which includes not just the middle class, but the new one.

The subtitle also reads:" The Challenge of 2014 and the Consequences", which highlights the direct link between the current problems of India's middle class and the general parliamentary elections in spring 2014.

They were attended by over 600 million people, 64% of all citizens who have the right to vote, and the increased activity of the younger generation of citizens was particularly noted. A special feature of the election campaign was the desire of the two leading political parties in India to get the support of the same group of voters - the middle class. The leader of the Indian National Congress (INC), Rahul Gandhi, appealed to the new middle class, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (People's Party, BJP) appealed to the middle class. The reasons for some stylistic differences in the course of elections are unclear, as in the analysis of P. Varma.

The reviewed work is important for its relevance, reflecting mainly the current period in the political and socio-economic life of India. The global financial crisis, which affected the decline in India's GDP to 4.9%, rising inflation, and consumer prices generated massive discontent among segments of the population, including those classified as middle class, which determined the outcome of the 2014 elections.

The government of India was headed by BJP leader Narendra Modi, who was called the "idol of the middle class". A pragmatist, a tough executive, and an active Twitter user, he makes no secret of his desire to attract the city's multi-million-strong consumer base, a term that has become almost synonymous with the middle class.

This definition did not arise by chance. It reflects the strengthening of the position of a part of the population that increased their well-being in the zero years of the XXI century. Recognizing the importance of this relatively new stratum of Indian society, P. Varma records its certain inertia, even immaturity, expectations of a "magic wand" that will solve all problems for it (p. 65).

Apparently, in an effort to emphasize the scale and spread of the middle class, and therefore its potential, P. Varma provided data on its number in the world. With reference to the OECD, the figure is 1.8 billion. people currently with an increase to 3.2 billion. by 2020 and 4.9 billion rubles. - in 2030.

The share of the Asian middle class will triple due to rapid growth and will reach 1.7 billion by 2020. people make up more than a third of the world's population. "China and India will play a critical role in this global explosion." On the contrary, the size of the middle class in Europe and America will decrease by two-thirds (p. 51, 52). If the middle class, with its thirst for consumption, makes up more than half of humanity in the near future, what will happen to natural resources? P. Varma does not ask this question.

The study of India's middle class, like other developing countries, is complicated by weakness

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a statistical base that does not allow an adequate assessment of its quantitative characteristics. In the book, as in most publications on this topic, there are no important quantitative and qualitative characteristics-who and by what criteria can be attributed to the middle class. P. Varma defines belonging to this stratum of the population with a five-fold gap. According to him, these are households with a monthly income of 20 to 100 thousand rupees. Under this criterion, the number of middle-class people in India was 200 million in the mid-1990s (p. 6). This does not take into account the composition of the household, and typical Indian large families and cohabitation of several related generations can significantly reduce income per person.

P. Varma, referring to the "Indian context", outlined his vision of an Indian approaching the lower stratum of the middle class, without giving statistical indicators. In his opinion, everyone who has a place to live, who can provide a family with three meals a day, uses public transport, primary school education, and has the income to buy a fan or a watch, or a bicycle, belongs to this category.

Medical services are not mentioned in the list. P. Varma refers to the position of these people as aspiring to "climb to the bottom step of a third-class car" (p. 6). There is no indicator of how many of them or even their share in the population of India. The question of quality of food and housing does not arise, the need to choose between a clock, a fan and a bicycle in itself indicates a low income. Summing up, the author refers millions of artisans, small traders, and some unskilled workers in industry and services to the lower stratum of the middle class in India, without naming the criterion of his approach.

The lack of statistical data is seen as the main drawback of P. Varma's book. For example, he considers the middle class, as he puts it, "bull capitalists", rural residents who have managed to effectively use government subsidies. However, data on the size of their land plots and income are not provided. The absence of a well-reasoned criterion of the middle class does not allow us to determine those who, according to economic indicators, lifestyle and position in society, form the basis of the middle class. This does not allow us to assess not only its size, but also what political, economic and social motivations are inherent in it as a class. 7 features of the modern middle class of India proposed by the author deserve attention. (With a certain stretch, they can be considered an explanation of why the author characterizes it as "new"):

1. Quantitative growth has allowed the middle class to play a new role in elections.

2. The middle class gained homogeneity, which made it a class, pushing aside the divisions generated, including by the caste system.

3. It is perceived as a holistic phenomenon throughout India.

4. Its population is dominated by young people under 25 years of age.

5. This class is revolutionary in its mastery of modern computer science, which enhances its capabilities; In connection with this point, Varma notes: "There are few parallels in history where any class has ever achieved such powerful tools of influence in such a short time" (p. 4).

6. The middle class is moving away from its earlier isolation, showing the first, as yet weak signs of abandoning problems that represent a limited sphere of its own interests only.

7. Never before has the Indian middle class been so irritated by failures in governance, the poor state of the economy, corruption, and cynicism (p. 5).

The above complex, especially the 6th and 7th positions, allows us to consider the Indian middle class not only as a new, but also as a promising stratum of society. P. Varma repeatedly emphasizes the youth of the middle class and, as a result, its interest, desire and ability to use modern means of communication, which represent the sphere of growing employment in India, primarily for the younger generation (p. 22).

The author of the book believes that it was the commitment to modern information and communication technologies that made the middle class, in contrast to its previous position, reactive, mobile, and motivated to take active actions. He refers to the mass protests of young citizens when a young woman was brutally raped in Delhi in December 2012, which was reported by the media.

P. Varma, a keen observer, captures shifts in the mood of the middle class. The economic downturn, rising prices, everyday corruption, which primarily oppresses small businesses, and street crime have awakened public consciousness. In his opinion, the middle class has abandoned its usual indifference, showing a sense of responsibility and civic engagement. Middle-class people became the main force of the anti-corruption movement that began in the late noughties. "Black money has become an invisible but obvious drag on the economy" (p. 42). Huge amounts of money are being withdrawn from the country using hawala (an unofficial system for transferring funds) and transfers to Swiss banks.

At the head of the protests was Anna Hazare, a consistent supporter of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Rallies of his supporters took place in 200 cities of India. 15 million protest calls demanding curbing corruption were received in Mumbai to a number announced on Facebook (p. 17). P. Varma sees in these speeches a new feature of the middle class-an understanding of their common interests with the majority of the country's population: "The middle class cannot improve its wealth if many in India remain in unbearable poverty" (p. 46). He stresses that India needs economic growth, but not one that widens the gap between " India is brilliant and India is rich."-

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diya sinking" (p. 87). This is exactly what is happening in India, which ranks 3rd in the world in terms of the number of dollar billionaires after the United States and China. Poverty in the country is gradually decreasing, but about 300 million people remain in this state.

A clear indication of the new role of the middle class was the formation of the" Common Man Party " (Aam Aadmi Party, AAP - Common Man Party), led by the charismatic, well-educated forty-year-old Arvind Kejriwal. The main slogan of the party was the fight against corruption. A. Kejriwal supplemented it with requirements that meet the interests of the urban poor , such as providing clean drinking water, reducing electricity prices, preferential loans, etc. This allowed him not only to push A. Hazare out of the leadership role, but also to win a fundamentally important victory in the February 2015 Delhi Legislative Assembly elections. Thus, the young party marked a certain stage in the country's political life and, possibly, a new role for the middle class. However, in 2011, this party, in alliance with the INC, lasted in the municipality of the capital for a little more than a month. But you learn from mistakes...

P. Varma's work is written vividly, with a deep understanding of the sharpness and complexity of the topic. His analysis of the situation of the middle class in India helps to understand the main patterns, possible shifts and obstacles to the formation of a middle class in one of the largest economies in the world.

E. A. BRAGINA, Doctor of Economics, IMEMO RAS


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