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Is Narendra Modi capitalising on the inherent corruption in India?

Monday, 14 April 2014 - 2:53pm IST | Agency: DNA
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By now, even the worst critics of Narendra Modi acknowledge the incredible impact of his campaign blitzkrieg. Not in the least supported by the weakest Congress campaign ever, coupled with a naïve and weak leadership. There has been a collective fatigue from the grave institutional inefficiencies of UPA-II along with the widely campaigned issues of corruption by the opposition. 

UPA-II was largely a story of spineless governance. While the various corruption scandals definitely overshadowed the many pro-people policies of the UPA-I, it lost the battle of perceptions scripted by the opposition and sincerely played by a pliable media, repeatedly within the drawing rooms of India's middle-class, the most vocal vote bank of Indian politics

But is corruption only in governance? Post-Independence India has developed an inherent ability to be a corrupt society and it certainly does not seem to be going away anytime soon. Not until we remain corrupt in our day to day lives.

Corruption is not only about multi crore scams in governance, which, however, must be punished swiftly and brutally. But, is it also not about weakening of our social and moral fabric? Is it not about the lack of courage to stand up collectively in the face of the many wrongs that are committed daily no matter against whom it has been committed, no matter which gender, class, caste or religion the wronged belonged to? Is it not about letting justice be denied because of subversion of due process of law? Is it not about putting self before all? 

The Indian middle-class has often been the bane of many an analysis, both political and economic. It is tough to placate this audience which is not only known to be highly opinionated but quite self-centric and also increasingly religious. And these traits are peculiar to them since it's made up in large measures by people who have struggled, are self-made and most only a generation ago lived a difficult and challenging life. I grew up in one such household. Like many others, my father arrived in Mumbai in the early 1960s to escape the stillness of a village life and challenge himself with the uncertainties of a big city. I remember those days in Mumbai, when growing up as a kid, hailing an autorickshaw or enjoying a masala dosa at an Udipi restaurant was an event. TV was a community resource that often defined some kind of an enviable superior status of those who possessed and those having that illusive phone connection, a Bajaj scooter or better still a Maruti 800 were looked upon as nobility amongst us.

All this changed rather quickly in the last two decades, much due to the Congress-led liberalisation policies. These very households transformed within a generation, into comfortable lifestyles that brought all new age amenities within grasp. It attracted more people into the cities and fuelled an insatiable hunger and a constant competitive spirit to stay ahead. This is uniformly visible across all the urban landscapes within the country. In a society which was already caste and class driven, two new matrixes were added – status and religion. The drive to achieve a social status became as important as manifesting ones religious identity. It was reassuring. But it also led to dimming of community fervor while at the same time managing to flare-up communal rage. This is the audience Modi has been speaking to and that responds to him most vociferously. It gives them the reassurance of a continued sense of security both financial and religious.

But the Indian middle class is a wickedly self seeking community. It is now too big to be tamed and demands an unproportional stake to the country's resources. The day you try to limit it's demands it will bite you. It's too self seeking to even consider it's own within the fold. And this is best portrayed on the city roads and the people's road habits.

While the former is bursting against the seams the latter is driven by mindless self-centeredness. Each year car sales have shown robust growth while the roads have pretty much remained the same. It's just not that you need them but you want them bigger, you want them with more power and yes, you want them more. So what if there is little or no space to drive or park. The next time you are driving to work, take this quick test – count the number of cars that are occupied by a single person. Secondly, every time you step in to drive you get into a race, a perennial mode of competition to outdo the other. Indeed, our worst is reflected in our traffic sense which will easily qualify amongst the worst in the world.

Most of us living in urban India are highly opinionated and vociferous about the change we need in the country. But how about that extremely tormenting wait for the signal to change. How many of us can take this test and pass when asked to wait their turn at a traffic signal which is not manned by a cop? Overtaking, lane-crossing, jumping the signal, honking and of course bribing the cops when caught comes pretty easily to us. The same us who want our nation to change, our politics to change, our policies to change but can't be that change ourselves. After all, rules are always meant for the other!  

The urban middle class has also assumed a first right on India's resources. It wants growth, infrastructure, roads and jobs. Indeed it should, but it has never clamoured for these very benefits for their rural brethren who don’t seem to have an equal right to it. The urban middle class can post, tweet and share and these new-age tools have ensured it's voices are heard faster and louder. But how many of these even bother to include fellow countrymen in the smaller towns and villages in their dreams. For the urban middle class, it demands the benefits of economic progress with little or no thought for the rural India. 

Our flawed idea of growth has much to be blamed for this. Our focus over the last two decades has been so centric to industries whose consumer base largely resides in cities (the very same middle class) that rural India has suffered gravely due to policy neglect. Much rather than creating infrastructures that could slow down migration, some benefits under the garb of policies are doled out that provide low wage employment opportunities while the cities get roads, malls, mass rapid transports, parks etc. Those in villages, we assume, should be happy they got a job that helped them get two meals a day which also seems out of bound for many. 

The Indian middle class at best accounts for 25% of the population but has managed to punch way above it's weight. And Modi seem to have realised this early on. The middle class segment's endless dissatisfaction (well greed has no limits) and it's ability to amplify this dissatisfaction through social media discourses provided Modi the perfect mix to run his relentless but hollow campaign. A campaign that has spelt no specific policies, not in the least for the rural poor. It has offered no roadmap for the nation's progress nor it's evolution. It has only offered slogans which the urban-centric media has dutifully relayed. 

For the first time, you have a Prime Ministerial race where the foreign, defense or economic policies of the contenders is unknown. While one has no track record of governance the other has had a bloodied and discredited record. While one seems to be interning before he goes into the next round the other is an inept administrator whose only refrain is his Gujarat model which his own party men refuse to acknowledge. A model that only seems to have benefited the industrial houses and it`s urban middle-class voters. The stories of rural Gujarat are largely unknown and also not considered important to be focused upon by a pliable media. This segment does not and probably will not play any role in Modi's scheme of things. Modi, the darling of corporate India and who have invested significantly in his campaign will not allow him that chance to reposition the priorities as they should be. After all, they will be eyeing to feed the insatiable hunger of the urban middle class, and it's spells great for business, right? The rural and poor be damned.

The choice that India makes this election will manifest in more ways than one. For once, if the middle class places the country before self in the truest sense, they will probably make a better choice. Five years is a long time and some losses can be irreparable.

'Arif Ayyub is a media professional and the views expressed in the article are his own'


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