Middle class attitudes and the politics of poverty reduction in India

Middle class attitudes to the poor and poverty alleviation policies are examined in a new paper from DLP research fellow Niheer Dasandi.

He asks what makes the middle classes oppose or support initiatives intended to lift people out of poverty, and how the development community can secure their interest in and approval of such policies.

His findings are based on interviews with respondents living in the Indian state of Gujurat selected to be representative of gender, age, religion, caste, income and occupation. They were mostly urban dwellers and their circumstances fitted Varma's broad definition of the Indian middle class as encompassing 'anybody who has a home to live in and can afford three meals a day, and has access to public transport and schooling, with some disposable income to buy such basics as a fan or watch or cycle'.

Three broad themes emerged strongly from their responses. The vast majority said they believed that poverty was simply part of the natural order and would always exist, no matter how much effort was made to eradicate it. The widely held belief was that getting out of poverty depended on an individual's motivation and determination, rather than what help might be available to them.

Finally, it emerged that India's middle classes feel frozen out of the political process by:

  • their perception that the country's elites focus on the poor, particularly during election campaigns, and do nothing for the middle classes;
  • a sense of powerlessness in the face widespread corruption, and a perception that the political class is particularly corrupt;
  • and a belief that the country is in reality run by large corporations rather than the government.

This study's findings reveal the complexity of the perceptions and beliefs of the middle classes. It suggests, for instance, that although donors and practitioners often assume that middle class disapproval of aid for the poor is based on self-interest – a fear that lifting others out of poverty will make their position more precarious, for instance – this is far from being the only driver of their opposition. Many respondents said they would happily support poverty alleviation policies that demanded some form of effort from recipients, such as sending their children to school to improve their chances of getting out of poverty, rather than making them work and contribute to the family budget.

The paper concludes that a political approach to policy design needs to be less institution-focused and to take public opinion into account.

See full paper: What Do Indian Middle Class Attitudes to Poverty Tell Us About the Politics of Poverty Reduction? (PDF)

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Workshop: Political dimensions of development programming

Tuesday 15th February 2011

The Developmental Leadership Program, in partnership with The Asia Foundation (TAF), ran the second in a series of workshops entitled 'Political Dimensions of Development Programming' in Manila, Philippines from 15-16 February 2011. The workshop brought together TAF Representatives working in the Philippines and the region, AusAID staff based in the Philippines, and selected non-government partners.

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New paper on 'The Anatomy of Political Predation in Zimbabwe'

Tuesday 1st February 2011

Why, after liberation in 1980, did the ruling political elite in Zimbabwe resort more to predation than development and bring about the terrible economic and political decline in that country? And why, even in the face of the current political and economic crises, have rival elites failed to forge a common developmental coalition? In this research paper, commissioned for the DLP, Michael Bratton and Eldred Masunungure offer a fine-grained political analysis of this story.

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New paper on 'Growth Alliances: Insights from Egypt'

Wednesday 5th January 2011

A recent paper in Business and Politics explores the emergence, evolution and forms of 'growth alliances' in Egypt. Professors Abla Abdel-Latif, of the American University in Cairo, and Hubert Schmitz, of the Institute of Development Studies, show how largely informal and politically-negotiated relations helped to shape alliances between some business sectors and key policy-makers without apparently becoming abused for private gain.

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The Elephant in the Room: Politics and the Development Problem

Monday 13th December 2010

The Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University hosted a workshop on 13-14 December 2010 entitled "The Elephant in the Room: Politics and the Development Problem".

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Politics into practice: A dialogue on governance strategies and action

Tuesday 7th December 2010

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) hosted a round table on 7-8 December 2010 entitled "Policy into Practice: A dialogue on governance strategies and action in international development".

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Political Dimensions of Development Programming

Thursday 2nd December 2010

A joint DLP-Asia Foundation workshop on the Political Dimensions of Development Programming was held in Canberra, Australia, on 2nd and 3rd December 2010 for staff of AusAID.

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GTZ Brown Bag Lunch

Monday 22nd March 2010

Adrian Leftwich gave a brown bag lunch at GTZ talking on: "Beyond Institutions: Leaders, Elites and Coalitions in the Politics of Development"

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About DLP

The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) is an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development.

DLP focuses on the crucial role of home-grown leaderships and coalitions in forging legitimate political settlements and institutions that promote developmental outcomes, such as sustainable growth, political stability and inclusive social development.

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News

New article - To Boldly Know: Knowledge, Peacekeeping and Remote Data Gathering in Conflict-Affected States

Thursday 12th October 2017

In this article in the Journal of International Peacekeeping, DLP researcher Suda Perera critically evaluates crowdsourcing's uses and abuses, and warns against an over-reliance on remotely gathered conflict data.

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Why political settlements matter

Thursday 5th October 2017

Join us on 5 Oct 2017 at ODI (10-11:30am) to discuss the research featured in a special issue of The Journal of International Development co-edited by Alina Rocha Menocal (DLP and ODI) and Jan Pospisil (Political Settlements Research Programme at the University of Edinburgh).

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