Urban Middle Class: Key to Transform India

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In this essay…

Society is an organization of people who share a particular interest or purpose. People in society can be stratified on various themes like caste, religion, language, and class. On the basis of class, people are divided into – lower, middle, and upper classes. The middle class who live in the urban areas is called as Urban Middle class. Nowadays, the urban middle class is playing an important role in transforming India.

In this essay, the following would be discussed – The historical context of the urban middle class, the Role of the Urban middle class in transforming India, Challenges before the Urban Middle class, the Government role in empowering the Urban Middle class, and the way ahead for empowering Urban Middle class.

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Reading footprints of Urban Middle class

The role of the class is traced back to ancient Greek. Plato gave the role of guardian class i.e. upper class for the ruling. Thus, he established an institution of philosopher King. However, Aristotle’s emphasis on the golden means is similar to Buddhism. According to him, the rule of the middle class is not the rule of the ignorant. Both poor and rich hate each other but both of them trust the middle class. Later, in modern history, Marx advocated for the rule of the lower class through the violent overthrow of the upper class i.e. capitalists.

However, in the context of India, an institution of philosopher-king resembles Gurunanak Dev’s idea of P-King in Sikhism. Aristotle’s golden mean resembles Buddha’s middle path. However, during independence, the Telangana movement was in line with Marx’s recommendation of the rule of the lower class. The British government tried to create an urban middle class for communicating with other classes and legitimizing British rule.

After independence, in the late 1980s, the green revolution has started shaping the middle class to play an important role in transforming India. Later, in the 1990s with the LPG reforms role of the middle class in the general and the urban middle class, in particular, became inevitable in shaping India for the 21st century.

Roles of Urban Middle class in transforming India

NITI Ayog (National Institution for Transforming India) was formed in 2015 with the objective of transforming India through effective coordination and planning through cooperation with the state. In the economic sphere, it is the middle class who is working abroad in the middle east and sending remittances to India. According to a World Bank report, India received $83 billion in remittances in 2020 which is even larger than India-Africa trade for the same year. Thus, the middle class is making India strong economically.

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The urban middle class is the source of entrepreneurship. It is said that it is the urban middle class in the US that made America great. In the engine of growth, the urban middle class is the major contributor for savings which is part and parcel of investment through intermediaries like banking. The middle class is also one of the largest consumers. Thus, we can say that the urban middle class is the backbone of India’s GDP. They demand school, vehicle, health, and other infrastructure.

In the agriculture sector, the abolition of the Zamindari system increased small and marginal farmers in India. Today, more than 85% of Indian farmers are small and marginal. Extra people from the family employed in the field started migrating to cities and becoming part of the urban middle class. Manufacturing industries started getting semi-skilled and skilled people in cities. People living in cities have accessibility to good education for their children. Over the period of time, it has created a pool of highly skilled employees in the IT sector. India has been dominating the world in the field of the IT sector.

In the Pharmaceutical sector, Globally, India ranks 3rd in volume. The urban middle class has contributed to the production line as well as created demand because of increasing health consciousness. Largely MSMEs are led by the urban middle class in cities. From shops in the market to developmental works like construction in cities are dominated by the urban middle class. Thus, it has been transforming the structure of cities from inside i.e., through demography, and from outside i.e., through the development of cities. According to a UN report, currently, India’s urban population is 32%, which is expected to double by 2050.

In the political sphere, India witnessed strong checks on government through activism with the help of the urban middle class in the last decade. For example, the Indian Against Corruption (Anna Movement) is one of the examples. People marched on the road for Lokpal Bill and against the Delhi gang-rape case. Recently, India witnessed protest against Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 and three new farm laws passed in India. The urban middle class has played an important role either actively participating or passively assisting them in continuing protest for a longer time. It gave rise to alternative politics in the form of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi.

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The Urban Middle class has become responsible citizens. According to CSDS Lokniti, the middle class displays greater interest in elections as compared to both the rich and the urban poor. It strengthens the link with democracy, freedom of speech and expression, education, and greater participation in electoral politics through the constitutional right to vote. According to Plato, “State is individual writ large.” Thus, responsible and empowered citizens will lead to responsible and empowered countries.

Government role in empowering Urban Middle class

The government of India has been assisting the urban middle class in transforming India’s present and expecting a bright future. For example, inclusive approach toward entrepreneurship through Startup India for all and Stand up India for women, SCs, and STs. These initiatives relax tax norms and paperwork for the first 3 years. Through skill India mission, the Government is focusing on skilling the middle class so that their potential could be utilized in transforming India.

The government has taken a significant step in the direction of ensuring substantive equality by providing reservations to economically weaker sections (EWS) through the 103rd amendment act. It gave the opportunity to the middle class to increase representation in different spheres of India’s developmental process. PM Awas Yojna has been providing affordable housing for the urban middle class. For those, who have migrated to cities, the Government is bringing “One nation, One Card” to ensure PDS delivery even in cities.

Challenges before Urban Middle class in the transformation of India

The urban middle class is facing high out-of-pocket expenditure. According to a World Bank report out of pocket expenditure in India is nearly 65% only on health. High expenses and rents in cities left the urban middle class with fewer savings. Increasing inflation due to a sharp increase in fuel price is affecting the living standard of the urban middle class. Apart from this, instead of increasing social cohesiveness, individualism and conception of the nuclear family are increasing in the urban middle class.

Ayushman Bharat is extended to the poor class. The upper class is capable enough to take care of the health expenses. But the middle class is struggling for quality health and education. Another big issue is data insecurity. Their data are sold in order to make them excessive consumerists. This is also one of the causes of less saving by the urban middle class. Their data are more vulnerable to misuse. Thus, they are not able to make informed decisions even in the matter of expenses.

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The urban middle class in cities purchase cars and homes on EMI from banks. They need assistance from the government to get food, shelter, and security for the urban middle class. In case of a crisis situation like Pandemic, they need proper support from the government and proper attention from the media in the process of transformation of India. Health, Home, and education system should be affordable to all. Data security, smooth mobility, social security, and women empowerment are needed.

In conclusion

In this essay, we have discussed the evolution of the urban middle class from ancient times to post-independence via medieval and modern times. After this, we understood how the urban middle class is playing an important role in transforming India in the different spectrums – Political, Social, Economic, and Administrative. We have also discussed the government’s role in transforming the urban middle and the associated challenges faced by the urban middle class. This essay also suggested what else should be done for the urban middle class.

Honorable PM has rightly said that in ancient times people used to settle on the bank of the river but in the coming decades, people would like to settle on the line where optical fiber passes through. Thus, the urban middle can be called an engine of growth that has the potential to transform India in the 21st century so that it could lead the world in the coming decades. Like the US, the Indian government should also come up with a foreign policy for the middle class to advance economic well-being.

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