Tuesday, August 14, 2012

It is really a battle for the middle classes

The nervousness of established political parties over their prospects in the 2014 general elections is evident. They were manifest in the intemperate BJP response to Lal Kishen Advani's statement that a non-Congress, non-BJP prime minister 'heading a government supported by these two principal parties is however feasible'.
The Congress which is following the Mad magazine mascot Alfred E Neumann's motto 'What-Me worry?' in the face of alarming signs of electoral erosion, immediately pounced on the comment and declared that the BJP had conceded defeat in advance.
Advani's analysis was unexceptional. He said that the trends in the recent decades had indicated that it was unlikely for New Delhi to have a government minus the support of either the BJP or the Congress. In other words, he ruled out the chimerical Third Front. 

Ramdev and Hazare sharing an anti-graft platform

However, a Charan Singh, VP Singh, and Chandrashekhar, Deve Gowda or I K Gujral type government was feasible-the first two had been supported by the BJP and the latter three by the Congress.
But he noted, stability would come only with a government anchored by one of the two major parties. At present, however, the Congress was in a bad shape, and may just manage a two digit performance in 2014.
The 'principal beneficiary' of this trend, he observed was the BJP, 'notwithstanding its blundering in Karnataka'.
Anna Hazare and Ramdev may not be drawing the kinds of crowds that they had in the past, but they represent a deep frustration of the people, mainly of the middle and lower middle class, with their own condition.
The economic downturn has no doubt contributed to the dark mood in the country, but the issue of corruption is what obsesses them. The Congress party may stand up in the Lok Sabha and list the steps they are taking to get the black money stashed abroad back to the country, or outline the tough measures they have taken to curb corruption, but it does not quite wash.
The people want change and that should worry both parties, even though, the likelihood of a new political vehicle to carry their expectations is yet to emerge. Sensing this mood, the BJP and its mentor, the RSS, have been trying to latch on to the popular upsurge.
The RSS very publicly declared that it was backing Anna's protest last year. This year, though, they have stayed away. Former BJP president Rajnath Singh has openly spoken of the possibility of the party joining Ramdev's agitation. A measure of the extent to which the BJP seems to have lost its independent plot is evident in the fiasco of the manner in which it handled the presidential election.
They have clearly abandoned any effort to shape policy even when in Opposition. The negativist approach of the party is evident in its opportunist rejection of the Indo-US nuclear deal, FDI in retail and the GST, all of which the BJP had supported while heading the NDA government.
The BJP's cynical approach could yet cost it a lot because the electorate is not clear what the party really stands for. Is it the pragmatic, development-first approach of Narendra Modi, or does it fly the Hindutva flag of the RSS, or is it really the cynical, world weary party of its Delhi-based leaders who keep on shifting stands, depending on the time of the day?
In politics, sometimes, even one week is a long time. And certainly, the twenty months or so that are left before the next general elections in 2014, constitute an eon. It is in these months that the party must discover its true self if it is to be, as Advani claims, the principal beneficiary of the Congress party's misfortunes.
They would be short-sighted to underestimate the ruling Congress party's travails. Its biggest worry is that its "Great White Hope" Rahul Gandhi seems to have failed to set the Gomti on fire, and now, the party loyalists are mooting their brahma-astra-Priyanka Vadra.
Somehow these two young scions seem to have lost their charisma. But this is the party of governance, and while it may not have done anything worthwhile in the past two years, it still has time to make up.
They have taken everything that the Opposition and fate can hurl at them and still remain a functioning entity. Were the economy to pick up in the coming year, things would begin to look different.
All this brings us back to the incipient revolutions that are being dreamed off by Anna and Ramdev. There should be no doubt that they are essentially a middleclass phenomenon, indeed, a consequence of the economic growth of the past decade and a half.
Corruption for the middle class is not just a loss of something which they feel belongs to them, but also a manifestation of a sense of helplessness. That is, if you take a wider definition of corruption to include not just officials and politicians taking illegal gratification, but also the burden on the common folk through services which are not rendered, or for which they have to pay additional money to touts and fixers.
It also includes the wayward ways of government officials, especially the police, in dealing with ordinary complaints and issues. Many politicians think that this class does not matter. They are mistaken; the middle class may not have numbers in the country, but it is they who create the 'hawa' (the direction of the wind) on which elections are often won and lost. In great measure this voluble and opinionated class- from which the country's powerful media draws its personnel- shapes public opinion.
Unlike their counterparts in more advanced democracies, we as a people act on sentiment-this is what drives a Bollywood hit or a scrip in Dalal Street, and this is what often determines the outcome of an election.
Mail Today August 11, 2012

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