The middle kingdom

Apr 27 2014, 02:11 IST
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SummaryIn the strategy sessions of the major players in this election, there’s a new target emerging: the Indian middle class. It’s not quite the elephant in the room

In the strategy sessions of the major players in this election, there’s a new target emerging: the Indian middle class. It’s not quite the elephant in the room, but it is certainly acquiring fairly substantial shape and form. Till the 2014 election, the middle class has been of little consequence in terms of voter appeal or policy statements in party manifestos, sidelined in favour of identity politics—community, caste, religion, farmers, the rural vote and local factors. Part of the reason, however, was that most members of this class have been singularly disinterested in electoral politics. Their vote was sporadic, unfocused and the inked finger was flaunted more as a badge of honour (“See how brave and politically-conscious I am”) than a genuine desire to participate in the democratic process. For most, their major concerns were to do with the state of the parks in their colony, school admissions, the price of gasoline and onions, the water supply and other municipal concerns. They were neither a consolidated bloc, nor significantly large in terms of size. The first signs that this was changing came in 2012-13 when the Kejriwal and Aam Aadmi Party factor came into serious play. His anti-corruption plank was something that appealed not just to middle-class hearts, but their wallets as well. Indeed, the reason for the middle-class awakening could well be far more complex and deeper than a spontaneous anti-corruption outburst. Since their initial appearance at venues in support of Kejriwal’s party, they have hit the streets in support of a range of issues, from crimes against women to gay rights and minorities, the environment, price rise and to protest abuse of citizens’ rights. In essence, the awakening was based on four basic issues: governance, which includes less corruption and more transparency and accountability; better infrastructure and civic services; rising prices which had started to hurt; and the misgovernance of UPA II where focus shifted from economic liberalisation to populist handouts to the poor.

There is another factor that has changed their electoral attitude and made them a vote bank worth targeting. Historically, the Congress was the party they most identified with, from Nehru to Indira, Rajiv to Sonia and Rahul and then, their patron and saviour, Manmohan Singh. Under the good doctor, while he was finance minister and then, presiding over UPA I, they benefited greatly in terms of reaching a level of affluence within a relatively short

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