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The 'middle-class' muddle

The recent remarks by the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice 'blaming' the global food prices on India's growing middle class, has triggered a huge ruckus. But the statement needs to be seen in the right perspective. A blog piece by Amrita Sharma.

india Updated: May 09, 2008, 10:40 IST
Amrita Sharma
Amrita Sharma

The recent remarks by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice 'blaming' the spiralling global food prices on the rising prosperity of India's huge middle class, has triggered a huge ruckus.

Following close on heels was US President George W Bush who backed her statement on the issue. But the fact of the matter is, whether India is responsible for the global food crisis or not, is an issue for economists to deal with not politicians. <b1>

What the political leaders should have done instead was to have read between the lines. "When you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food. And so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up," said Bush, which implies that India is now not only rising as a major global power but its "middle class", is also emerging as a force to reckon with.

In fact, the phenomenon, which is the new Indian middle class, is virtually redefining itself in the 21st century. Once associated with the typical bourgeoisie 'mentality', this burgeoning section is now going all out with splurging and flaunting its newly-acquired "spending power".

Today, you can spite them, reject them and avoid them but you cannot ignore them. They are ubiquitous and have the confidence that comes with their nouveau riche attitude which is totally "in your face".

Meteoric rise

For the multinationals, this particular class is the new face of India and their biggest target groups, since the members here not only dream about the best things in life, but can afford it as well.

They move about in their new sleek cars, flaunt their Lee Coopers, Nikes and L'Oreals at the drop of a hat, and flash their new lifestyles like never before. You name it and they have it. Be it luxurious houses, expensive cars or even vacations abroad - nothing is too big for them!

Till the 1980s, India was one of the worst performing developing economies. But after Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao opened the country's economy in 1991, he ushered in a new era by attracting foreign investment. With the liberalization of the economy, India's graph took an upward slant. It witnessed a meteoric rise as a vibrant free-market economy. In just a decade, India has become the world's largest market for consumer goods.

In a way, the dazzling shopping malls, busy roads, bright street lighting, neon lights, huge billboards and hordes of frenzied shoppers, encapsulate the middle class in its new avatar.

And with the new lifestyle, the food habits are bound to change, and fortunately for India, it's changing for the better. And the fact that the change is conspicuous enough for the world to sit up and take notice is something that deserves a pat on the back.

And so, in the wake of the sterling meteoric rise of the middle class, the statement by Bush and his top diplomat needs to be seen in the right perspective. Instead of taking umbrage, the Indian political leaders should have given the US leaders benefit of doubt, since in all fairness, they were just stating a "fact" - one that was aimed at drawing attention to the global food crisis, and demanding that something be done about it soon.

That's all there should have been to it.

As for the middle class of India, they are enjoying their moment in the sun for now - and a well deserved one.

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