Don’t discount the middle class!

Before even beginning the post, let me clarify – I am neither on the pro-Anna side nor on the anti-Anna side. However, there are strong and valuable lessons to be learnt from the whole Anna Hazare- Jan Lokpal Bill drama that is happening in India currently. And this post will be about those things.

I start from the opinion piece in yesterday’s Times of India (19 August 2011) by Swagato Ganguly titled, “It’s the middle class, stupid!” Find the article here.

The article is thought provoking because it explores the composition of people participating in the movement and how the information is spreading. The media by which information is being spread is Facebook, Twitter, and news channels. The article says, “Instead of being relayed through caste, clan and kinship networks or routed through political parties, the organisers have used modern forms of communication – such as text messages, Twitter and Facebook – or relied on secular civic organisations to quickly assemble large crowds.”  Indeed without TV cameras and reporters of national dailies covering the protests, there will be no incentive for holding silent protests and it would not succeed also. Anna Hazare even postponed his very first protest so that it didn’t have to fight with Cricket world cup for prime time space. (Read my earlier blog post about why hunger strikes are successful)

The people out there who are protesting against the government are the middle class. This middle class, as many observers have commented recently, is the same people, who pay Rs 100 to a traffic cop for over-speeding/driving without helmet, pay Rs 1000 to get a fast track driver’s license. Hence many argue why they, of all the people, even started a campaign against corruption. This movement is not to be seen as an uprising against corruption alone. It should be seen as the rise of a voice that has been less heard – that of the burgeoning middle class.

Quoting from the article,

“For politicians of the old order (and professional pols belong mostly to the old order), only the two ends of the social spectrum matter. While moneyed elites can bring in the moolah, the poor masses have the votes. The middle classes don’t figure in this equation. On the other hand, when a middle-class person looks at the taxes deducted from his hard-earned salary, he’s liable to ask what the government is doing with his taxes.

The middle class (defined as those with monthly household income between Rs 20,000 and Rs 100,000) has exploded in numbers from 25 million in 1996 to 160 million currently. By 2015, it’s expected to hit 267 million. That makes it a significant proportion of the electorate, a ‘vote bank’ politicians can no longer afford to overlook. Moreover, this rapid rise in numbers indicates a shift in the balance of power within the middle class itself. The ‘new’ middle class – which owes nothing to state employment – is eclipsing the ‘old’ middle class that was a creation of the pre-liberalisation Nehruvian state.”

The middle class is indeed pissed about the way government functions. They are also entangled in the mess. If someone tries to break free from the current order,they either lose the game or are pulled back into the system. The middle class have many cribs which they have kept to themselves all along. It is true that they are selfish. They are selfish for a reason. As the article says, there is no place for them in the power equations of political parties. There is no one to support them. And if the middle class happens to be in the so called “upper caste”, that is the end of the story. Going out of the country and leading a selfish life – that seems to be the only option. In this context a modern uprising should be seen along the “I am also there. Don’t forget me!!!” line. This is a middle class who wants to stay in the country and lead a dignified life.

There was a time, not long back, when India was shining for them. I am indeed talking about the NDA rule. During the NDA government, the middle class were happy but the lower strata of society were not. The socialist Congress pulled off an “Aam Admi” slogan and came back to power as the UPA. BJP has only deteriorated since then. In the middle of UPA-2, the middle class is not happy. (By the way, the upper class is always happy irrespective of who rules. They are rich, after all.)

Fortunately or unfortunately, there is no other political party which can utilise this situation and gain momentum. It is a tough time for all the political parties. If indeed elections were held today, no political party will want to fight the elections.  Corruption is not just confined with the ruling party. Political parties across the spectrum have been charged of corruption. The congress knows this; hence they need not be overly worried. If indeed a political movement vis-à-vis Jayprakash Narayan of the Indra Gandhi era arose, we could have seen another Emergency.

In this context, the rise of one Anna Hazare assumes prominence. It is not a JPN kind of movement. (Is it a mere coincidence that the latest fasting was planned to be organised in the Jai Prakash Narayan Park?). It is a different kind of movement. Whatever be the ramifications of the Lokpal bill, whether it is for the good or for the bad, whether corruption will be removed or not, the movement is not something which is to be discounted. The people participating in the movement might not know how exactly the lokpal, for which they are fighting for, will help them. All they know is that they are fighting for their voice to be heard.

The article concludes with,

Anna Hazare is just a catalyst who happens to chime with the middle-class mood today. But the arrival of the new middle class is a more lasting phenomenon than Hazare himself. Just like the TV cameras, this middle class is not going to go away. Smart politicians had better hone their strategies to co-opt middle-class rage. They ignore it at their peril.”

Can we indeed hope that the politicians are aware of this and there will arise some party or a coalition which will appease all three classes? A coalition between the Congress and the BJP, anyone???

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6 thoughts on “Don’t discount the middle class!

  1. A well thought article I would say! Hope the new middle class doesn’t calm down!! Let their Voice be heard.

  2. Supporting both the comments, I still must add… A nice post wherein your thoughts are also given room, inspite of the quotes… 🙂 Nicely written, unbiased.

  3. @Gouri, cresloga and The Battosai: Thank you. 🙂

    @The Battosai: I was trying out this style of writing, interspersed with quotes from another article. Good that it worked out well. 🙂

  4. The middle class is not pissed about the corruption. They just want 24 hours electricity, good roads, clean drinking water and so on. And when they do not get this even by bribing they get pained.

    To top it all, the middle class also gets pained about Commonwealth Games scam and the shame that it brought, they are pained about the 2G scam too.

    “The middle class is not pained about bribes, they are pained about the corruption where they are not cut in.”

  5. @Adhokshaj: True. As I said middle class is selfish and selfish for a reason. Now they want their voice to be heard. I think that is why this movement is important and hence this post.

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