04 January 2013

India's Politics: The Urban Middle Class

Rajni Kothari ("Politics in India", 1970) on how the urban middle class lost power to the rural zamindars:

"Different stages in the social organisation of politics call for somewhat different leadership and organisational skills, and the movement from one stage to another may displace one kind of leadership by another. Consequently, one social group endowed with one type of social skills may be displaced by another endowed with another type of skills.

Thus in the early stage of intellectual awakening and urban-style political organisation, the need was for people able to deal with Western and Westernised administrators, well-versed in fine points of debate and ideological disputation, possessing legal acumen, and capable of founding and sustaining small associations of public-minded persons that would agitate for specific causes. Such men were mainly provided by the Brahminic and traditional administrative classes who not only took to the new education but had also been endowed by a long tradition of scholastic knowledge and formal brilliance.

With the movement into a more diversified and mass-oriented politics, however, not only was there a need for a wider base of support articulation but also for new types of managerial and organisational skills. With this shift in orientation, the Brahminic and administrative castes began to be outnumbered by men from commercial and peasant proprietor occupations, occupations that had always called for a high level of interpersonal skills, a pragmatic and bargaining approach to problems, and an ability to marshal a new type of solidarity among their own castes, often based on a reinterpretation of their traditional status and a populist and anti-elitist ideology. These were the new entrepreneurs, the new innovators, of politics. They were less modern than the elites they replaced, less educated and more rural-based, operated through an idiom that was decidedly more traditional.

There has taken place a growing politicisation of the traditional sub-centres of Indian society. The rural elites have seized the organisation of these sub-centres and have on the basis of a new consolidation – caste federations, cooperative societies, panchayati raj – pushed themselves upward to state and national levels. Utilising the opportunities of cooptation offered by the metropolitan elite, they have occupied crucial positions at higher levels and have generally succeeded in outnumbering and outwitting the modernists."

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