Sunday, May 16, 2010

Great White Hope

Gulab is large-ish shop in Gurgaon which sells an assortment of Indian sweets, mithai and such. Also has a number of things to eat besides mithai—thali meals, dosas and even the odd pizza—all ‘pure vegetarian’, of course (one day, I’d like to get my hands of something which is vegetarian and impure).

What I found interesting is that to advertise themselves, they chose to photoshop a picture of a rosy-cheeked, plump White man holding a thali which contains roti, daal, chaval and subzi. Not that using White people in Indian ads is anything new; they’ve been used in ads for cosmetics, perfumes and electronics. But to use a White chap to sell a Punjabi thali?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Middle Class Muddle

A Raja’s alleged crimes would make poor old Tharoor’s transgressions look like a church sermon. Yet Raja’s brazen refusal to resign, or for that matter even appear contrite, stands in sharp contrast to the way Tharoor was made to quit as a result of the IPL imbroglio. The reason, commentators tell us, is that Tharoor has no “political base”. However, this is only partly true. Tharoor had a very well defined base to target—the urban middle class. Tharoor’s credentials to play this role were impeccable: the man was an international diplomat, had been to the best schools, and pronounced the word ‘power’ as ‘par’, as in the golf term—a fact which endeared him to India’s anglophilic middle class. However, the ease with which Tharoor fell, as a result of a charge which, in Indian politics, was minor at best, points to how little explicit political power this demographic holds.

It wasn’t always like this, though. At independence, political power passed largely to a highly educated, urban leadership. This class used its new found power to great effect, knocking out feudalism from India’s power matrix—an achievement which tends to be undervalued till one looks across our western border. A highly centralised power structure kept this arrangement going for 40 years till Mandal and Mandir changed India’s political landscape, drastically curtailing the middle class’ political influence.

However, at the same time, India’s newly liberalised economy helped the middle class not only to become a lot richer but also became a lot larger. And, though it had lost a lot of political power, the urban middle class still enjoyed a disproportionately large share of the pie—Delhi’s power cuts cause a lot more consternation than the lack of power in UP.

In a bid to win over this growing class, lost to the the BJP in the 90s, the Congress air-dropped Tharoor onto the political scene. This coupled with Manmohan Singh’s favourable image and the general disarray the BJP finds itself in helped the Congress significantly in winning over the urban middle class. Unfortunately, Tharoor’s style was too much of a break with the way Indian politics works. However, as this middle class grows, it’s only a matter of time before it gets its own political representation.