Column : Age of middle class governance

Written by Surjit S Bhalla | Updated: Oct 20 2012, 06:37am hrs
Middle class governanceactions for the people, of the people, and by the people

It is a zoo out there. Allegations, counters, damp squibs, blood money, clan against clan, people against the powerful, wannabe politicians against entrenched feudal lords, and anchors involved in gladiatorial contests across channels. It is news as entertainment for us, the middle class. It is a sad happy moment. Sad that it is this way, and happy that the cleansing of the system has begun in earnest.

What is common across the angst is a clamour for better governancewhether in the delivery of subsidies meant for the poor, or agricultural items like irrigation water, or the cleaning up of black coal residues, or high-tech allocations of spectrum. The anger of the middle class has been fuelled by the fear and belief, in equal measure, that the citizen has been ripped off. By the politicians who man the government.

Surely the most important buzzword is governance. But who is interested in governance Surely not those involved in mis-governance, which would likely include large sections of the political class, and the associated tribesmen. Let us call them the exploiters. The very poor are not interested because they are too poor and too involved in eking out survival. Which leaves us with a large swathe of the middle class, the class that pays taxes, the class that aspires to be better tomorrow and realises that a better future for it can only come about from a better future for all. In stark contrast, the mindset of the exploiters still belongs to an old age, one in which its own betterment can only come about at the expense of others i.e. a zero sum game.

Let us recount what has been achieved by civil society and its middle class representatives over the last few years. Most importantly, in the future, any stealing from the peoples cookie jars will require an out-of-the-ballpark arrogance and audacity. Phrased differently, it would require a stupidity of the highest order, something even our politicians are not capable of. Previously, only corporate insiders went to jail e.g. Raju of Satyam. Now, politicians do go to jail for white collar crimes, or crimes associated with mis-governance. Tragically, criminal indictments are still difficult for serious crimes like rape and murder, but this is also in the process of being corrected.

The second major achievement of civil society is that most emphatically no one has Teflon anymore, and no one is an untouchable. Representing the oldest feudal order, Congress party leader Digvijay Singh, spoke truly and informatively when he confessed that it was not in the Congresss DNA to identify faults in the families of fellow politicians (and even when there is concrete evidence), a practice followed by the erstwhile mafia dons. That this was not a coincident reference to the mafia was confirmed by Salman Khurshids blood-curdling comments.

Somewhat unconsciously, Mr Singh confirmed the very nexus that India Against Corruption and virtually every aam aadmi on the street has believed in for a long time. The politicians, regardless of party affiliations, are in bed together, especially when it comes to loot. How much of that is true is not clear; the fact remains that the speculation is that it is true.

So that is another contribution of the middle class angst. No politician is not under suspicion; no politician cannot not be directly questioned. We are all equal nowwhat more can the middle class want

That our politicians no longer claim that they are serving the country. Just a few months ago, Mr Vadra had opined that he wanted to enter politics in order to serve his country. That statement has now been proved to be hollow, but to be fair, the statement is hollow no matter from whom it emanates. When an individual says that he is entering politics to serve his country, are we to believe that in his existing profession he is not serving the country Is a teacher not serving to impart knowledge, and therefore serving the country Is a police officer maintaining law and order not serving the country Is a doctor saving lives not engaged in a noble pursuit

Even an athlete running for gold or playing in the Champions League claims he is serving the nation. Is he, or is he just a mere mortal, like all the rest of us, trying to make his life better for himself and his family. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and we all do it, but we dont go around pretending that we are sacrificing ourselves in the cause of the nation. So what is so extraordinarily special about a politician who works for maybe 20 days a year (if we the citizens are lucky) and even in those days is involved in some form of shouting matches What the politicians do in the other 345 days is slowly being brought to light by the middle class.

Is it not the case that most enter political life in India for the money and the glitter and the power. Actually, even in good governance Western nations, individuals enter political life because they like the power, the adrenalin, the excitement of being involved in the highest levels of decision-making. I envy many individuals in political life, both in India and abroadbut not for one moment do I envy them because they have the opportunity to serve the nation and I do not.

The recent scams highlight another realitythat the political class just does not get it. The most striking feature about globalisation and the associated technology is that there just isnt any place to hide any more. For anyone, anywhere. Dont believe me, but do believe all those caught unawares, like 47% Romney. If there is no place to hide, there is even less space to bury ones ill-begotten gains.

Which means that the age of middle class governance has arrived.

Surjit S Bhalla is Chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory firm. Please visit for an open forum on Indias politics