The news media seems to have brought about an astonishing homogenisation of Indian middle-class attitudes, outlook, opinions, outrage, reactions, into unwholesome default settings. Indeed, prime-time debates every night uncannily reflect and reinforce the Indian middle-class mindset, the main elements of which are:
Right good, Left bad: Second or third generation middle-class citizens display touching faith in free market economics and are steadfast in the simplistic belief that reforms and aggressive dismantling of the socialist state is all that it will take for India to become like the developed world. Therefore everything that benefits business and industry is lustily cheered, while welfare programmes are loathed as ‘populist’ – a catch-all phrase for subsidies and programmes (MGNREGA, RTE, Food Security etc.) targeted at India’s poor. What is truly amazing is how oblivious these folks seem to be of the many socialistic benefits they have enjoyed most of their lives – near freedom from income tax till the late 1980s, studying in aided institutions, petrol and LPG subsidies, discounted electricity and water through state enterprises, subsidised rail travel and many more. They also show an astounding capacity to ignore the many sophisticatedly packaged state benefits and tax breaks bestowed on industry. And then when a Vijay Mallya or a 2G scam emerges, they quickly denounce ‘crony capitalism’, without realising they might be working for ‘crony capitalists’ too. Added to this insularity is the misplaced hubris of ‘paying our taxes’, as if that is their only duty as citizens.
Hyper-nationalism and jingoism: To watch middle-class Indians wear their nationalism on their sleeves and hearing their insufferably proud chatter about all things Indian, makes one wonder, whether we are a nation of insecure juveniles. How else can we froth at our mouths endlessly about someone not chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’? What’s really pathetic is that ideas of nationalism, instead of getting broader and liberal with higher education are only becoming narrower and sillier. It’s as if the middle-class simply has no understanding of how nationalism and an exaggerated sense of greatness have always been manipulated politically and historically for consolidating power. It is not love for country; it’s just making us willing accomplices to repression. Another undercurrent is the perpetual sense of Hindu victimhood, as if they have always been subjugated and persecuted by Muslims and Christians, who now ought to be similarly dominated.
Merit mantra: The Indian middle-class never tires of chanting the merit mantra, convinced that the country is going to the dogs because too many ‘undeserving’ people are gate-crashing through reservations. While there are legitimate arguments against reservations, what they seem wilfully blind to their own merit being the result of being born into circumstances that were relatively advantageous – economically, socially, geographically, educationally - over a couple of generations at least. Moreover, for a tribe that never tires of promoting their progeny or interests through nepotism, networking, money and other means, this indignation is a bit rich.
Outshouting each other:: The argumentative Indian has truly metamorphosed into a sneering boor, interested only in speaking and never listening to another viewpoint. Aggressive name-calling, rudely interrupting, getting into slanging matches, sly ‘what-aboutery’ and running down others are now standard weapons in the middle-class armoury while arguing about any issue. What’s worse is the refusal to even consider they might be wrong. Of course apologies are out of question. What happened to manners, civility and logic that the middle-classes once prided themselves on? What can be more hypocritical than the same lot talking about parliamentary disruptions and democratic debate?
Group-think: The extent to which group-think holds the middle-class captive is testimony to how miserably education has failed to encourage independent thinking. The middle-class shows remarkable inability for intellectual, original or constructive analysis about complex socio-political issues. Each one seems to be parroting entrenched views as if these require no further discussion. Conformity and prejudice reign supreme leading to a frightening level of consensus that can only fast-forward authoritarian impulses.
Corruption greater sin than communalism: In the 2014 elections, the middle-class ostensibly voted for development and against massive corruption. Implicit in their choice was the message that corruption was somehow a greater sin than virulent communalism and that they were prepared to overlook majoritarianism, for economic achche din. Today, even after no real signs of achche din and all too evident manifestations of bigotry, the same middle-class still defends its electoral choice by lamely claiming that at least there is no major scam. This is complemented by vehement denial about the rise of intolerance, which again reveals its moral shallowness - that they are will pay for development and lesser corruption by turning a blind eye to minority intimidation and periodic violence. After all, they soundly reason, they themselves are in no immediate danger, being overwhelmingly Hindu.
Self-righteous smugness: So convinced is the middle-class of its rectitude, its economic contribution, its prim worldview and political correctness, its tastes, lifestyle and unabashed consumerism, that it is forever willing to pronounce instant judgements on everything, in their own personal kangaroo courts – social media.
Indeed our thought homogenisation seems to be complete and middle-class Indians are in very real danger of becoming caricatures as well as willing accomplices to political and social regimentation.
The writer is a Pune based author and film-maker
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