Sandy, Nilam and Obama

It was only on Pritha Sen’s satus which asked of us that while we were so concerned with Sandy in the US, we seemed to be less bothered about our own Andhra coast, ravaged by the storm Nilam. There was in our concern for Sandy and lack of concern for Nilam, a kind of slavery towards the US, our new found colonial master. I took her words and put it up as my status in which friends from the US commented that since no one they knew lived in coastal Andhra, they did not bother to ask. It did not cross their minds that people are always visiting these places on work, especially while so many of us are in the development sector that requires travelling to such places where none of our kin would live. But on hindsight, friends in the US were right not to be concerned about the Nilam, because really in India, no one of our social class, especially those inhabiting the Facebook are ever in trouble, whether in floods, or famines, or epidemics and droughts. Our class in India is well protected against vulnerability. This is not the same for the members of our class when they go to the US. They face what we probably would have never faced in generations; evacuation, food rations, no electricity, no water supply, floods, immobility and in short vulnerability against calamities, natural, or manmade. While some suffered the Partition or the earthquake as loss of property, people in the class we come from has not sunk into the depths of poverty as a result of that. In India, our class is protected; in the US, our kith and kin are not.

If we were to construct an index of vulnerability, then the middle class in the US is far more vulnerable than what we are ever in India. I have used some simple math to settle the vulnerability score. Would I to earn the same number of dollars as I earn my rupees, I would be as rich as the Jindals or the Tatas. Would my friends to earn the same number of rupees as dollars, they would be at the level of my house manager or my driver. The vulnerability of my friends in the US and my house help is at the same level. However, due to the differential value of the dollar, my friends in the US earn four times more than I do.

I have often wondered that the middle class in India is a different proposition from the middle class in America. In India, the middle class is a political class, the intelligentsia. Having emerged from the upper castes of various professions, the middle class in India via the bureaucracy and the political class has been a ruling class. The middle class in the US has been a class of skilled workers. The civil servants, lawyers, and the political class have been in an intermediate space between the working class and the ruling class but has never quite been the ruling class. The ruling class in the US has been the corporates; in India, till as recently as the UPA 2, corporates have struggled for legitimacy. No wonder then in terms of vulnerability to calamities, the Indian middle class, due to its position as a ruling class is better off than the corresponding class in the US. This is why, elections and change in the government just as in the case of the present Presidential election affects my friends as deeply as it did. I am not much bothered with a change in the government except ideologically of what the future of my country would be as a consequence. Since I am a ruler, I am worried about larger things in life those which do not directly affect my fate.

The middle class in America is a consumer class; defined by income and occupation rather than by learning and culture. The middle class in India is a culture class; defined by values and attitudes, beliefs and practices. While the middle class definitely needs money to reproduce itself in a minimum modicum of dignity and to pursue culture the way it would like to, culture and not money defines the middle class. The American middle class is a working class; not culture but incomes and the level of consumption it can access defines its status. The American middle class looks towards a level of consumption. The American middle class consumes culture; culture which someone else produces for it. Theories of film, culture and communication those emanate from the American Universities assert that the role of the media is to produce culture so that the recipients consume the same. In India, because the middle class is a ruling class, it is itself a producer of culture. It produces culture to create culture, to share culture, to put culture into currency. When the Indian middle class produces culture it tries to define culture; when the Americans produce culture they seek to hegemonize a culture consuming class. The intent of producing culture is not the same for the two countries.

The above plays an interesting part in American politics. Politics in India is not about the ruling class which is as secured against politics as it is against calamities; politics in India is about challenging the ruling class, not by taking away from its powers but sharing and partaking in the exercise of the same. This is why; politics in India is all about giving the poor a fairer share, including the excluded community like the minorities and Dalits. The US politics is about macro issues; policies that subject an entire nation to some kind of a discipline and morality which then contains the individuals. Citizenship in India is about ruling; citizenship in the US is about consuming. Green Card is a major issue, as social security is. The American middle class wants shelter, a chaperon, a shepherd. It does not have a desire to rule as the Indian middle class has.

Politics that shape India and America are thus bound to be shaped by differences in the middle class of these two countries. When America wants the FDI in retail, it promises to help its corporate class by opening up avenues for larger revenues. With the value of rupee falling ungraciously vis-à-vis the dollar, any retail chain from America can use the Indian economy to earn very large market shares and attain global dominance. This is a palpable opportunity that a recession hit America can hardly let go. But FDI will not stop at retail. The US trade policy which is up for review in the WTO shortly is clear about shifting investments into India if the outsourcing jobs are cut. Instead of outsourcing, the US companies will shift lock, stock and barrel in India. This will again help corporate profits but will leave the unemployed at the very same 7.5% in which it presently resides. Obama only promises that he will prevent Indians from staying on in America for good. For the present moment this is about students who go for higher studies in the US, but once this discourse is voted for, such ethnic discrimination is bound to only rise against the Indians.


About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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