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Why The Middle Class Matters To Modi

Little wonder then that Manmohan Singh has been exhorting the Congress to repeat its winning performance in urban centres, like it did in the 2009 elections!

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When Narendra Modi’s name was announced as the NDA’s PM candidate, it struck a chord with the middle class of the country. The middle class is what Modi had wooed as a Chief Minister. Modi’s three terms as Chief Minister were used to lift a sizable proportion of the population out of poverty. Modi famously called them a “neo-middle class”.

It was seen most recently in the latest Assembly polls in Gujarat – while the BJP was routed in rural pockets, swathes of urban Gujarat stood by the party, even in Patidar strongholds. This has been the singular achievement of Modi as CM – solid infrastructure, 24x7 electricity supply, and a safe and secure living environment are the concomitants of the urban landscape that Modi so successfully addressed, as a Chief Minister.

For any society, it’s the middle class that is the vehicle of change. The first wave of liberalisation that P V Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh unleashed gave rise to a burgeoning middle class. It’s this middle class that yearns for the best of the West, yet is devoted to the motherland. This middle class is the beneficiary of a new knowledge economy. It’s this middle class that has made the social media a way of life. It’s in this middle class that Modi (and the BJP) saw a fertile ground for a new nationalistic wave. As the 2014 results showed, Modi was the champion of this Great Indian middle class.

As Prime Minister, Modi sought to address Urban India. 100 smart cities, Start up India etc were part of this new deal for Urban India.

In the last one year or so, however, there’s been one conscious shift leaving many wondering if Modi, in his quest for a “Congress-mukt Bharat”, is now addressing the poor and rural India – thought traditionally to be the Congress constituency.

The economics of demonetisation is still being hotly contested, but Modi argued, with some authority, that the move that was supposed to have inconvenienced one and all, was particularly appreciated by the rural populace. As election results in Uttar Pradesh showed, the poor were convinced by the argument that while many of the rich folks stood to lose their “ill-gotten wealth”, the poor had no such fears. This was Rural India’s revenge against forces who sought to perpetuate an unequal economic and social order.

In the last full budget of the Modi government more recently, FM Arun Jaitley sought to present, what many thought, a parallel of P C Chidambaram’s farm loan waiver budget. While rural India, in distress and pain, was crying for attention, many thought that part acceptance of M S Swaminathan’s recommendation on MSPs of farm yields, was belated. Combine this with the short shrift that the middle class got in the Budget, many wondered if the Modi government was forsaking its core constituency while trying to carve a new constituency.

All said and done, the middle class still swears by the values that form the guiding spirit for the Modi government. In politics, however, perception, at times, is more important than any empirical evidence. If the opinion gains ground that the constituency that had voted Modi to power in 2014 matters little to him now, the BJP could be in a spot of bother. Little wonder then that Manmohan Singh has been exhorting the Congress to repeat its winning performance in urban centres, like it did in the 2009 elections!


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