India's New Middle Class: Democratic Politics in an Era of Economic Reform

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University of Minnesota Press, 2006 - History - 289 pages
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Today India’s middle class numbers more than 250 million people and is growing rapidly. Public reports have focused mainly on the emerging group’s consumer potential, while global views of India’s new economy range from excitement about market prospects to anxieties over outsourcing of service sector jobs. Yet the consequences of India’s economic liberalization and the expansion of the middle class have transformed Indian culture and politics. In India’s New Middle Class, Leela Fernandes digs into the implications of this growth and uncovers—in the media, in electoral politics, and on the streets of urban neighborhoods—the complex politics of caste, religion, and gender that shape this rising population. Using rich ethnographic data, she reveals how the middle class represents the political construction of a social group and how it operates as a proponent of economic democratization. Delineating the tension between consumer culture and outsourcing, Fernandes also examines the roots of India’s middle class and its employment patterns, including shifting skill sets and labor market restructuring. Through this close look at the country’s recent history and reforms, Fernandes develops an original theoretical approach to the nature of politics and class formation in an era of globalization.In this sophisticated analysis of the dynamics of an economic and political group in the making, Fernandes moves beyond reductionist images of India’s new middle class to bring to light the group’s social complexity and profound influence on politics in India and beyond.Leela Fernandes is associate professor of political science at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

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Dr. Leela Fernandes has done excellent work and the book was/is very helpful in understanding today's middle classes in India.

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This book is good beginning to understand complexity of changes taking place in post-liberalization India. However, one major lacuna in this book is that it does not look at middle class aspirations of upwardly mobile villagers in rural and small town India. It is the rural and small town India that determines the change of regimes in Indian democracy. Broadly, rural and small town populace have voted either for centrist congress or rightist NDA--- both the parties being enthusiastic supporters of Neoliberal policies. The leftist agenda has been completely overshadowed by the agenda of liberalization so much that the left has no options but to follow the liberalizing policies of the regimes at the center. Fernandes does not discuss these complexities. The situation has been worsened by the utra-left activists and postdevelopmentalist activists who does not have any alternatives to offer apart from simply saying that there are alternatives that the organized left is sincerely searching for. While not all the activists are funded through international source but many of them receive international funding and propagate a view of society where state has less and less developmental role. Thus NGOs, activists, and politicians are great recipe for weakening of the Indian state. And the new middle class in its various--urban, rural, and small town manifestations--- actively is pushing India to brink of disaster. But Fernandes absolutely ignorant of all the complexities.I wish this book was as good as her earlier book on jute workers. As power corrupts politicians, tenure and fame corrupts academics.  

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