The Indian middle class has emerged as an important player both in terms of its numerical size and the influence it wields and is likely to play a crucial role in the ongoing general elections, says diplomat-author Pavan K Varma.
"The 2014 elections will test the ability of the middle class to apply its mind to issues, not only in the pursuit of its own interest, but from the point of view of what is good for the nation as a whole," Varma, advisor to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, writes in his new book "The New Indian Middle Class: The Challenge of 2014 and Beyond".
The problems that beset the middle class, and for which it will seek a resolution in this elections, and those after it, are both class-centric and nation-specific., he says, adding there is no issue that concerns the middle class which is isolated only unto itself, be it governance, economic growth, corruption or public safety. "For the first time in our history, a pan-Indian class, largely homogenous, mostly educated and universally angry, is a factor in the war rooms of almost all political parties. In keeping with the global middle-class revolution, will the Indian counterpart emerge as a credible game-changer, with an alternative vision that shows political discrimination, a wider agenda, better organisation and an effective leadership? "Or will it merely be cannon fodder to be cynically manipulated by calculating politicians? The 2014 elections mark a watershed in the evolution of this class in India. What it does and the choices it makes will shape the future of India, for better or for worse," the book, published by HarperCollins India, says.
Varma says that 2014 presents an opportunity for the middle class to assert the need for a new political idiom that devalues cynicism, values honesty, is far more people-friendly and participatory, and rejects the blatant display of the trappings of power and the pomp and paraphernalia of office. "The political class is aware of this search among educated Indians. However, the danger is that it will seek to pursue its old agendas and manner of functioning while paying lip service to the new aspirations of the middle class," the former Ambassador to Bhutan writes.
"All middle-class voters will need that extra surge of vigilance to checkmate this duplicity. Basic tools in this endeavour would include checking closely the antecedents of political candidates, examining manifestos and promises rigorously, interrogating fund-raising methodologies and expenditures of parties for and during the elections, and focusing on specifics in terms of performance expectations." According to Varma, there are at least seven reasons why the role of the middle class has changed today, and each of them constitutes a first in the evolution of this class. "Firstly, for the first time, the middle class has reached a numerical size which constitutes a significant critical mass in the electoral arithmetic of the nation.
Secondly, this growth in numbers has reinforced the incipient homogeneity of this class to a point where, more than ever before in our history, it constitutes a distinct class with an identity that significantly transcends caste loyalties," he contends. "Thirdly, this numerically sizeable class has for the first time acquired a footprint which is pan-Indian in scope, meaning thereby that is represented as an identifiable entity in greater numbers than hitherto in all parts of India.
Fourthly, this middle class has never before been younger, with the bulk of its members being around the age of 25. Fifthly, the powers of this class have undergone a veritable revolution with respect to information and communication, and consequently of influence,due to mobile telephony, social media and 24x7 news. There are few parallels in history for any class to have obtained such powerful instruments in such a short period of time," the author says.
"Sixthly, in a break from its past behavioural insularity, the middle class has, in recent years, given the first indications, however tentatively and selectively, of a willingness to be involved in issues which are not restricted to its immediate and exclusive ken of interests. And lastly, never before has the Indian middle class been angrier at the failures of governance, the mismanagement of the economy, and the corruption, cynicism, lack of idealism and the moral bankruptcy of the political class and those who are in collusion with it," he reasons.