Indian Express

Modi of the middle class

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Modi is able to rally around the party what he calls a ‘neo-middle class’, made up of newcomers to the urban economy. Modi is able to rally around the party what he calls a ‘neo-middle class’, made up of newcomers to the urban economy.

He appeals to an urban class with eroding caste identities, increasing religiosity.

The negative reasons why the middle class “votes for Modi” are most obvious. There is a total rejection of the UPA regime, because of corruption and dynastic politics. There is also a fatigue with the government’s style of leadership and distrust vis-à-vis its policies. In spite of the fact that the middle class has benefited from Manmohanomics more than any other social group, it resents his inability to make growth sustainable (growth has declined in all emerging countries, including China, but that’s no reason for not blaming the government) and to counter the erosion of the rupee, which makes life so much more complicated abroad.

The “positive” reasons are more interesting. First, a section of the middle class perceives Narendra Modi as a super-CEO. One of his biographers, Nirendra Dev, points out that he “functions like a modern day CEO laying emphasis on the outcome and often allegedly putting the rules and normal norms in the backburner” (Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth, 2012).

This image relies on a whole set of beliefs: he is less a politician than a manager (an assumption harking back to his past career as an organisation man, a pracharak) and he is for the liberalisation of the economy (didn’t he claim that he would transform Gujarat into “the SEZ of India” as early as 2007?). This last quality has affinities with the middle class’s trust in the private sector to modernise the economy. The upper layer of this class already lives in new towns where education, health, security, water, electricity etc are privatised.

If the middle class wants a super-CEO at the helm of India, it is also because it does not valorise parliamentary democracy as much as before, compared to a more managerial decision-making process. In 2008, the CSDS survey on the State of Democracy in South Asia showed that in India, 51 per cent of the respondents from the “elite” “strongly agreed” and 29 per cent “agreed” with the proposition: “All major decisions about the country should be taken by experts rather than politicians”. Among interviewees from the “mass”, 29 per cent “strongly agreed” and 22 per cent “agreed”, probably because they were not prepared to undermine one of their main assets: numbers.

Five years later, the popularity of democracy among the middle class has probably eroded further. The aggregated data that the CSDS has just made public show that, as a whole, satisfaction with the working of democracy has declined from 55 per cent to 46 per cent, a clear reflection of the impact of corruption and the criminalisation of politics, which affect almost equally all the political forces that continued…

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