The clean sweep of the Bharatiya Janata Party in India’s 2014 general elections and in the subsequent state elections has generated a fair amount of curiosity and incredulity among people. While many believed the anti-incumbency feelings, the need for change and the ‘business as usual’ attitude of the UPA government would bring a new government into power, the decisiveness with which the electorate voted for the BJP (rather Narendra Modi) is quite astonishing. An important section of the electorate that largely fuelled this result was the Indian Middle Class. Among his many strategies, NarendraModi’s approach towards the middle class has proved to be particularly successful. His words and actions have been able to strike the right chord with this aspirational class of India.
The past few years have seen many working class uprisings around the world, like the Umbrella movement in Hong Kong, Pro-democracy protests in Thailand, Anti-government protests in Brazil etc. The middle class here too has kept its pace with the rest of the world by unleashing its political potential and power to influence through collective movements like Anna Hazare led anti-corruption movement and the agitation and protests after the Dec 16 Delhi gang rape, albeit they were spontaneous and fleeting compared to other movements across the globe. With growing numbers and economic muscle, this class has been able to create its own unique position in the Indian political arena. And just like the poor, they too have become an important social section for the political parties looking for electoral gains. However, here it is important to observe that unlike in countries like Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, the Indian middle class further has its own sub-groups and strata. These sub-groups can be classified on many parameters like the rural-urban households, high-caste and low-caste families, people engaged in primary, secondary and tertiary sectors etc. Each of these groups has its own reason for claiming to be middle class which could be the place they live in, their life styles, their job profiles, their income or any other similar scale. However, what is unfortunate is that these sub-groups have very little similarities with the other sub-groups. For example, the urban white-collared 9-5 working middle class that resides in metropolitans and uses smartphones and social media is totally unaware of the other middle class group in small towns with conservative bringing up and totally different aspirations.
This so-called English speaking and mall-cultured community is definitely the most dominant of all. With its greater reach to the media and the world, this section is seemingly defining the overall Indian middle class ideals, although these could be unrepresentative and limited. It is this section that is broadly being termed as ‘aspirational’ by social scientists, mainly because the youth of this section ‘aspires’. The most common aspirations being getting professional education, owning a car and a house, travelling abroad, access to world-class healthcare and of course, a luxurious lifestyle. Plus, all these need to be accompanied by safety for their women, easy employment and hassle free government. It was to these expectations that Narendra Modi squarely appealed to the most.
But an important aspect comes across from these aspirations, which is that they seem to be ignorant of the predicaments of other sub-groups and classes of the Indian society, to be specific, the lower class. The younger generations of the middle class families are being brought up in a manner that they are forever blinded from the grass-root social problems. What they think to be the greatest evils of the Indian society (like corruption, violence against women etc.) is just the tip of the iceberg. It is important that these households expose their youth to the deeper matrix in which all these problems are entwined. This class can’t go ahead pursuing its own aspirations while staying ignorant to the issues bothering the other sections of the society. Only when the middle class accepts the problems of the rest of the sections and strata ofIndia as its own that it can truly unleash its potential of altering the Indian social sphere and bring about the change it wants to see in India. And it will be only then that their uprisings won’t just be spontaneous and fleeting but rather prudent and impactful.
C. Krishna Priya