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  • Writer's pictureAnilesh Kumar

How To Identify An Indian Elite?

Image Courtesy: Freepik

A few days ago, I heard a Western educated Indian TV journalist chastising the ‘elite’ of the country using ornamented English language while donning a suit and tie. The paradox was irresistible. I immediately called a friend who works with that journalist and asked his views on the oxymoronic prime-time polemic. If you carefully read the first two sentences, you would have noticed that there is an assumption about who an elite is and what their appearance looks like. The journalist’s language of presentation – English – has been conceived as the lingua franca of an elite and so is his Western inspired sartorial elegance.

Let me accept that my assumption of an elite was based on a conspicuously emblazoned image in mind predicated on various social conscious/unconscious experiences. Holding back my emotions, then, I asked myself the following: what is wrong with speaking in English or what is unacceptable about lamenting wearing a suit? Is it appearance or context that matters the most? Does medium hold more importance than the message? An essential concomitant of these questions is also almost mysteriously underlying revulsion which seemed obvious till before this, but now felt like an aberration from the necessary reasoning sacrament. I thought that one way of looking at it could be to analyse what elite means for a wider global population and juxtapose my preconceived notions with the conclusion.

That led to an important question of who an elite is? A mere mention of the word triggers a sense of disdain towards those identified as one however, the literal meaning is far from the popular perception. The word ‘elite’, like most words in English, has a Latin (Eligere) and French (elire) origin suggesting something or someone ‘elected’. Cambridge dictionary defines an elite as “the richest, most powerful, best-educated, or best-trained group in a society”- qualities that most of us would aspire to have. In other words, elite does not mean an unscrupulous callous character with contempt for the have-nots of the society. However, an average person would have a contrarian view, why?

To understand the problem with elite and Indian elite in particular, let us comprehend the issues with this species globally. The current global wealth distribution is at one of the most uneven stages of all times in human history. Despite all the technological advances and literary accomplishments, the world is grappling with the same problems - poverty, inequality, and state rivalries - that it was facing centuries ago. Religion has become a stronger flashpoint than a point of peace and reconciliation. Development initiatives have marginalised more than accommodating people raising questions like -development for whom? Exacerbation continues with deaths, bombing, pandemic, climate crisis, mechanisation led redundancy, and so on.

The so called ‘best-trained’ or ‘best-educated group’ in the society have failed people as the challenges across spectrum of life looms large. Is it because of their incompetence or unwillingness? A lack of the first would by default dethrone them from being elite and the latter requires us to be intention experts which I certainly am not. If so, we are back to square one. How do we deal with the question of their contribution? The answer is by scrutinising their very contribution.

Take any profession and you would notice that there is an overall moral declination resulting in making the nonpareils as pariahs. Media or journalists whose job was to speak truth to power are speaking for the powerful. The doctors have become meticulous merchants trying to save their private clinics than lives. Teachers have little to no regard for teaching as contribution in nation building. Broadly, the advocates have stopped coming forward to help those who cannot afford justice in the courts of capitalism.

Therefore, an elite is not the one who speaks in English or wears a suit but is one who runs away from the responsibility of helping others while being perfectly capable of it. An elite is one who shrugs his shoulders off when he/she could comfortably contribute in making the society a better place. An elite is also one who does not question those whose job is to provide answers. In that the Indian elite should not be confused with an English-speaking class but those who speak the language of ignorance and wear a sheet of malcontentment. Ironically, we will have to broaden our horizon to fathom the narrowness of the Indian elite.

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