Hegemonic Aspirations

New Middle Class Politics and India's Democracy in Comparative Perspective

Author: Leela Fernandes; Patrick Heller


This article uses an analysis of the rise of India's New Middle Class (NMC) to develop a class analytics of democratic politics in India. The article locates the politics of India's democracy within the framework of comparative class analytics and integrates class analysis with the politics of caste, religion, and language. The article develops two central arguments. The first is that the dominant fraction of the middle class plays a central role in the politics of hegemony. These hegemonic politics are played out both as attempts to coordinate the interests of the dominant classes and to forge internal unity within the highly diverse fragments of the middle class. But rather than producing the classical pattern of liberal hegemony (in which the ruling bloc actively elicits the consent of subordinate classes) in India these projects have been marked by middle-class illiberalism, and most notably a distancing from lower classes. Second, we argue that the contours of the NMC can be grasped as a class-in-practice, that is, as a class defined by its politics and the everyday practices through which it reproduces its privileged position. Sociocultural inequalities such as caste and language are an integral part of the process of middle-class formation. We argue that the NMC is a tangible and significant phenomenon, but one whose boundaries are constantly being defined and tested. The hegemonic aspirations of the NMC have taken the form of a politics of reaction, blending market liberalism and political and social illiberalism.
Regions: South Asia
Countries: India

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December 2006
© 2002 ILO/Crozet M.