PUBLISHED:22:35 GMT, 14 January 2014| UPDATED:00:38 GMT, 15 January 2014
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Through much of the Nineties and the Naughties (2000s), the Indian Middle class was the toast of the world.
They were imagined as educated, liberal, modern millions and celebrated as the ambassadors of a ‘new’ India.
This imagery has faded at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Corruption, brutal gender abuse, policy lethargy and ill-liberalisms of various kinds are redefining the India story.
The Indian “middle class” has been subsumed within a negative portrayal of the nation, and therefore seeks to reinvent and recreate its brand to offer a new appeal.
Two avatars have begun to dominate contemporary discourse in the public space; the Aam Aadmi (ordinary man) and the Khaas Aadmi (special man).
A would-be Income Tax Commissioner, a Supreme Court lawyer, a TV anchor and India’s foremost psephologist, among others, have defined themselves as the Aam Aadmi.
In doing so, they have raised the income bracket of the Indian middle class to the standards of developed countries.
It seems this same middle class is set to jump into an even higher income bracket as the former India CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland, a board member of Infosys, and the founder of India’s first budget airline also join the ranks of the ordinary man.
For a few years now the Khaas Aadmis have been self-categorising into three typologies; the foreign-educated Indian, the Indian who has lived abroad and returned home, and lastly the Indians settled abroad who are still engaged in writing the country’s script.
The first category, the foreign-educated Indians, bear the burden of being smarter. They, after all, got through the excruciating process of getting a student visa and of convincing the outside world that their intelligence was outstanding enough for the finest institutions to nurture them.
These Indians get rewarded with posts in the Prime Minister’s Office, Planning Commission, and various ministries, usually in advisory or consultative roles commensurate with their intelligence and institutional affiliation.
The second kind, Indians who lived abroad and came back to build and improve their country, have the burden of being better. They have all the virtues of a foreign education – an education they acquired without resorting to affirmative action.
They, after all, proved themselves (and India) in a highly competitive, cut-throat work environment. They triumphed in truly meritocratic set-ups and in addition to taught knowledge, they are the repositories of the kind of work ethic and ‘professionalism’ we in India must aspire to.
Lastly, there are the Indians who have emigrated abroad and project the loudest voice. These Indians have to be even shriller than those they give their advice to.
They lead a life of contemporary ethicality, and have moved beyond their colonial past. Invariably these are the Indians that the West sees as their own since they have no attachment to the antagonism of the past, and take Western normative discourse at face value. The truly perfect Indians.
Now going by the English press, we can arrive at this very simple mathematical formula; INDIA’S SALVATION = AAM AADMI + KHAAS AADMI. In effect these are India’s new age messiahs. In the optimal world the “Aam Aadmi” should be running the country based on surveys conducted exclusively of the “Khaas Aadmi”.
Arvind Kejriwal should have Khaas Aadmi categories 1, 2 and 3 pre-programmed into his mobile phone and should conduct SMS polls of them before every major decision.
Why indeed should our parliament function given that these three categories of Indians have the answers to everything? How dare Parliament abrogate to itself the right to pass a nuclear liability law, when these categories of grandees have opposed this awkward legislation?
Why in the world cannot the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) understand the subtle nuances of the American legal processes which these three Indians have been trying to hammer into our backward consciousness?
Why does the government not see how paying an Indian maid a wage in the US that most PhD holders cannot get in India constitutes grave abuse?
Why can’t India just go along with the narratives of the “moral majority” constituted by the three categories of Indians? Since they are our voice abroad, why do we even need the MEA – it’s superfluous – let’s shut it down!
Nowhere in this new narrative should we consider those left out. There are after all, a billion of them from whom sociological space has been appropriated by the middle class. These real ‘Aam Aadmi’ are now the ‘Benaam Aadmi’ (the nameless Indian).
The Benaam Aadmi is worried about unsophisticated problems, like access to food, water, electricity and shelter. These 800 million footnotes of demographic excess, living below 2 dollars a day, crowd our public spaces, dirty our landscape, and make our beautiful cities ugly.
They must never occupy Lutyens Delhi, nor indeed ride the Delhi metro built by the Aam Aadmi and designed by the Khaas Aadmi. It is because of these Benaam Aadmi(s) that ridiculous legislations like the Food Security Bill have been enacted.
Our negotiating positions in the WTO and on international climate change discussions are dictated by these same villains and have made us the butt of derision in all major newspapers.
Justly they are not and should not be welcome in the public discourse, now dominated by the Aam Aadmi and the Khaas Aadmi. It is they after all, who chose to emigrate to the Gulf, to blue collar jobs, under allegedly racist, allegedly exploitative and abusive conditions.
Indeed these allegations must be doubted since they chose to send US$20-25 billion back home every year – especially in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
They certainly do not have the education, the refined world view, or indeed the legitimacy of the Aam and Khaas Aadmi(s) to understand or appreciate the nuances of the Khobragade imbroglio.
Indeed how would the country run if instead of discussing the ‘Maid in Manhattan’ travesty of human rights at the dinner table, we were to start discussing the revolting existence of the Benaam Aadmi?
Such conversations would truly be a characteristic of a country in decline.