A ‘layer’ here should be interpreted roughly as people who are aware of each other and behave as ‘equals’ with roughly the same political, economic and cultural clout. The basic premise is this, India today consists of three layers. The globalized and completely industrialized ‘metro India’, consisting of the big cities Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Kolkata1 and to a great extent Pune and the major cities of Gujarat. The second layer is the ‘televisionized’ and almost industrialized ‘India-Bharat’ cities and towns, consisting of most state capitals and million plus cities. Finally, we have ‘Bharat’, the predominantly agricultural bulk of the country.
Understanding these layers, their linkages and disconnects, their politics and economics is perhaps the key to understanding and influencing the Republic’s future. We start with the metro India. This is the India that the vast majority of Indians who use the internet inhabit, they work in or aspire to work in pan-national firms, study abroad and in general, interact quite heavily with the globalized world. The Anglo-phone west, with whom they share a language and a diasporic population, is a huge influence. The West it may be argued, is the primary inspiration for their own future and their vision of India’s future. This is the India that the English media caters to. For the most part, this is the India that the English media talks about, debates and worries about. The deep contradictions of the so-called ‘Indian national media’ can be understood easily2 if one sees the economic, intellectual and material cleavage between metro India and the other Indias. Metro India has simply been socialized to think that India is the big cities and everything in between is Indian territory, good for settings of the occasional Bollywood movie or heart-rendering news story, but not part of ones consciousness and the future.
‘India Bharat’ covers a much broader physical space than metro India. It encompasses places as diverse (not just in culture) as Kochi to Guwahati to Srinagar to Jaipur to Vishakapatnam to Nashik. Much of India Bharat, especially in the south and the west is booming. It is benefiting from a surge in urbanization, an improvement in the infrastructure (albeit starting from a low base) and an explosion in media, mainly television and to a lesser extent in print. The media (and hence the collective imagination) is more regional than ‘national’3. Political involvement is heavier and deeper than metro India, but inspiration for the future (both at individual and collective levels) is derived from metro India. Understandably, India Bharat is emerging as somewhat of a transition level between metro India and Bharat. There is a tremendous material cleavage with Bharat, but the intellectual one is not as great. Conversely, there is an intellectual cleavage with metro India (in terms of social relations) but the material one is not as great. If one wants to gain real insight into the politics and media of India, it is India Bharat and its media that need to be studied4.
Bharat is the vast majority of the nation, both in terms of size and population. Its material and social condition varies greatly, somewhat correlated with nearby India Bharat centres5. For eg. social relations are very different in semi-feudal UP and progressive Kerala. For a large part, the economy is in doldrums, dependant on a profession that simply does not pay enough for people’s aspirations or is unsuitable for pursuit due to natural factors, small land holdings or government policies/neglect. In democratic India, this is the most important part during election time, it throws people in and out of power. Linkages to the metros and India-Bharat are mostly personal, based on migrant labourers. Daily life is too hard to imagine the future. Bharat simply does not seem to have anything to offer metro India and India-Bharat, apart from food, migrant labourers and the occasional news.
Regardless of the morality of these divisions and linkages, and how we got here, they are there and if we are to succeed as a nation, they have to be dealt with. This does not mean they have to be destroyed, but they have to be made more rational and humane. This is not an easy challenge, for the vast majority cannot even articulate a vision for the future in a language the elites can understand. We face a connumdrum, for Bharat to be any kind of meaningful player (beyond sheer numbers and the occasional charismatic leader), a tremendous improvement needs to be brought in its material conditions. It is much more important to let UP become Uttaranchal, and for Rajasthan move up to the level of Gujarat than it is to turn Delhis and Chennais into Beijings and Miamis. Before anything, I feel it is this change in the metro middle classes imagination of ‘India’s’ future that needs to be brought about. Then we have to face the challenge of what the masses really feel and how metro India and Bharat can meaningfully communicate.
1: The fact that all IPL teams (except 1) are in these cities should give you an idea of what I mean when I say that they are completely integrated with each other and global capital and ideas.
2: For example, the mass mobilization over atrocities on urban women, hour long programs and shows dedicated to the stock market and cricket, vs very limited and spotty coverage for what happens in non-metro India, unless its shocking or entertaining.
3: This is not meant in a chauvinistic sense, the ‘national’ media is just the metro media, the regional media is much more focused on local politics and issues.
5: Think of villages near Ghaziabad or Kanpur in UP versus rural Tamil Nadu or Gujarat near cities like Vellore or Surat.
For a somewhat similar piece on China, see http://chovanec.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/the-nine-nations-of-china/