Scooter

Take one, scene one: A man in his late thirties riding a scooter with his wife as pillion rider and a kid is standing on the leg space. Man seems to be contended, secure and satisfied with his ‘small’ possession.  He has a government job and lives happily in his staff quarter.

Now-

Take one, scene two: A man drives in SUV with his wife and children to a mall to spend his weekend. He lives in a three bedroom flat in a gated community having all the amenities which he needs and wants around.  He works in an MNC and seems to be very ambitious.

These two scenes are not a reel scene of a movie. This is real scene or the makeover of the face of the urban middle class, our protagonist, in two different time frames. The first one depicts the urban middle class of the seventies and the eighties. The second one is the face of today’s urban middle class. This economic makeover seems to be very convincing and conclusive and this drastic change has often been termed as the indicator of the growth of the Indian economy unleashed by the economic reforms otherwise known as the new economic policies ( NEP) in 1991.

For all practical purposes the urban middle class is supposed to be one of the main gainer, if not the only, of the benefits of the economic reforms. It’s not a surprise that the urban middle class portrayed as the poster boy and also become synonymous with the success story of the reforms. He was also put happy, ambitious and bold face of new India.

According to an estimate the Indian middle class rose substantially after 1991 and may reach 30 million by 2030.

Coming to the other side of the picture.  This makeover story is also the story of rampant privatization and withdrawal of state from the space of public life in the name of reforms a.k.a opening up of the economy. Private players, both domestic and of abroad were allowed to take control of various sectors like banking, finance, telecommunication, housing and manufacturing and most importantly the health sector. Undoubtedly the reforms in some sector have helped the urban middle class to climb higher in the economic ladder.

In certain pockets of the economy in general and service sector to be precise the private sector created new job opportunities which translated into the fat salaries of a certain section of the urban middle class. But this sudden increase in the salary had a string attached to it namely the job uncertainty or the informalisation of the job market.  With the new job opportunities and the fat salary packages middle class aspirations and dreams were given wings to fly. At the same time the reforms in financial sectors resulted in the availability of cheap loans and EMIs with the help of which the materials dreams were taken care of.

India entered the era of unhindered consumerism. If not officially but an ‘Indian dream’ was created resembling the ‘American Dream’ of sixties.  In the process of pursuing these dreams the urban middle class ignored the cost.  On the one hand the urban life was slowly moving towards the control of the private sector.  On the other hand the gradual withdrawal of the state from the public sphere. The public healthcare received the biggest blow. It was systematically dismantled with the help of steep decline in the budgetary allocation year after the year and budget after the budget making the population of India as one of the most vulnerable people on the planet who were now left at the mercy of the private hospitals.  But here again insurance companies provided the middle class a false notion of safety.

Before the urban middle class could realize, they were out of the safety net of welfare state and its benefits.  They were busy bathing in the glory of their materialistic satisfaction and were under the spell, “consumer is the king”.

Under such grim situation when COVID- 19 hit India. The unpreparedness of the government and the negligence toward health sector led to rise in exorbitant medical expenses.

The near  to complete absence of state health sector and ruthless plundering of the patients by the private hospitals in the name of COVID-10 treatment often force people to borrow to meet their medical needs and expenses. As per Reserve Bank of India data, household-debt-to-GDP ratio increased to 37.1% in the second quarter of 2020 from 35.4% in the first quarter. According to an estimate the Indian middle class has shrunk to one third since the advent of the pandemic.

To add up to the woes, the nationwide lockdown pulled back the economy already reeling under depression for past several years. The combined effect of the economic slowdown and the pandemic soon started the nationwide laying off by the private sector. Thanks to the hire and fire policy a private entrepreneur is not liable anymore to its employees.

For the urban middle class it’s like a double whammy. Once thrived under the good days of privatization now had to face medical deprivation because of its exorbitant cost in private sector with no job at the same time.

This was a big jolt for the robust middle class who were in cross roads. The role of government that they were least concerned of so far is now strongly desired.

The spell had lost its magic. The poster boy of yesteryears felt abandoned.

It high time, the urban middle class should realize that in a developing country like India, public sector cannot be neglected at any cost.

Dr Trishna Sakar, Asst Prof, Department of Economics,Dr BhimRao Ambedkar College, University of Delhi.

The article is my personal opinion. 


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One Comment

  1. NALASIVA NANDA GOPAL says:

    True picture and layout of middle class in the glimpse of private sector…need to realise the importance of Quality Good government involvement in bringing glory in rural areas with Agriculture technology and other scientific research improve their life at their native places.