How the Indian Govt is taming India’s former elites (and creating its own?)…

Sanjeev Sanyal has a piece on how the Indian Govt is throwing out elites. These are usually those high flying people which were closer to the previous govt.

It has been more than a year and a half since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power on a promise to build a new India, one founded on a radical break with the past. It is still too early to gauge the impact of his economic and foreign policies, but there is one area where his government is making palpable progress: taming India’s entrenched elite.

India has a population of 1.2 billion people, but it has long been dominated by a tiny elite: a couple of hundred extended families, totaling perhaps 4,000-5,000 people. Many countries have powerful elites with outsize influence, but in India, dynastic elites control the top echelons in every sphere of public life: politics, business, the media, and even Bollywood.

Many of these dynasties have roots that stretch back to the colonial era, implying at least seven decades of dominance. Every point of leverage – from government contracts and industrial licenses to national awards – is used to maintain this ecosystem of power.

Over time, ties of patronage and marriage have fused these dynasties into a discernable class, concentrated in central New Delhi, with a few pockets in Mumbai and a small presence in other parts of the country. Exclusive English-language schools, holiday homes in Goa, and summers in London or Switzerland have given them a shared world-view. Occasionally, new faces are admitted, but only if they do not interfere with the system’s perpetuation.

Unsurprisingly, the result has been the creation of a class of people with a strong sense of entitlement, who react to even minor challenges by closing ranks. They flaunt their power so often (usually with some variant of the phrase, “Do you not know who I am?”) that even those who do not “belong” sometimes use similar lines to try to bluff their way out of trouble.

One of Modi’s more symbolic blows to the old establishment has been his government’s success in evicting high-status squatters from hundreds of government bungalows in central Delhi. Few of the occupants of these sprawling official residences had the right to live in them. In some cases, they had been there for generations; when faced with eviction notices, some families argued that the bungalows had effectively become memorials to their famous ancestors and that they should thus be allowed to remain.

He says it will be interesting to see whether the govt continues this drive or elites hit back:

What remains to be seen is whether Modi is able to cement these gains. The elite can be remarkably resilient, retaining the power to strike back at the first sign of weakness. History – from post-revolutionary France to modern Thailand – has repeatedly shown that it is a mistake to write off the old establishment.
He misses another crucial point. This throwing out elites usually happens when the govt swings from one extreme to the other as has happened in India. So the preferred people from previous regime are thrown the doors. But are the doors being opened for the new elites? This has to be avoided as well. So far there are little signs of this happening as the govt is still finding its feet. Whether this continues in future as well, is yet to be seen.
As a student of economics, I can surely comment on this. One  has obviously seen how Indian economic policy of the last 20-30 years was handled by just a selected few. Call them Indian economic policy elites if you may like. All committees were just a game of musical chair where number of participants were broadly the same set of people. Just that those who were picked could vary as number of chairs are removed in each round of music.
The set of players has changed with the new govt. It will be interesting to see if again the same game is played with new players.


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