India’s middle classes in contemporary India

Authored by: Leela Fernandes

Routledge Handbook of Contemporary India

Print publication date:  August  2015
Online publication date:  August  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415738651
eBook ISBN: 9781315682570
Adobe ISBN: 9781317403586


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In recent years, India’s middle classes have emerged as a central socio-economic and political force in contemporary India. In the wake of policies of economic liberalization that began in the 1980s and have accelerated since the 1990s, Indian and global public discourses have focused on the size and economic force of India’s middle classes. Market research firms have touted the middle class as a lucrative consumer group while political leaders have portrayed India’s middle classes as the public face of India’s economic potential (McKinsey Global Institute 2007). Social and cultural critics have decried the elitism of the middle classes and the threat of rampant consumerism in a country still grappling with poverty and inequality (Gupta 2001). Political parties have increasingly sought to attract middle-class voters in ways that could potentially change future electoral calculations. Thus, in the 2014 elections, Narendra Modi was effectively able to appeal to what he called India’s ‘neo-middle class’ (BJP 2014). In the midst of these layered trends, India’s middle classes remain one of the most over-debated yet under-studied social groups in contemporary India. The realities of the lives, identities and politics of India’s vast middle classes bear little resemblance to the heightened public rhetoric about this group.

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