The idea of South Asia and the role of the middle class
In the post-colonial world, the countries of South Asia have evolved politically in different ways, amidst internal and regional conflicts, but retained some commonality of institutions and cultures. Since the 1990s, the promise of market-led development and the growth of a middle class, especially in India, have reshaped expectations in a way not seen since the immediate post-colonial period, and provided the prospect of a region that combines its particular approach to governance with common aspirations and achievement of economic well-being – what might be a new “idea of South Asia.” This paper examines some aspects of the development of the South Asian middle class, their role in economic development, and the potential of the idea that shared middle class aspirations of material consumption can be a regional driving force. The paper argues that, for this potential to be realized, the middle class in South Asia may need to aspire to something more than private affluence in the midst of public squalor. In that case, a new idea of South Asia will require building social capital in ways that will challenge all of the region’s societies. Effective collective action across, but first within, the nations of South Asia will be the true test of whether this potential South Asian identity emerges.
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