Sunday, May 9, 2010

Middle Class Muddle

A Raja’s alleged crimes would make poor old Tharoor’s transgressions look like a church sermon. Yet Raja’s brazen refusal to resign, or for that matter even appear contrite, stands in sharp contrast to the way Tharoor was made to quit as a result of the IPL imbroglio. The reason, commentators tell us, is that Tharoor has no “political base”. However, this is only partly true. Tharoor had a very well defined base to target—the urban middle class. Tharoor’s credentials to play this role were impeccable: the man was an international diplomat, had been to the best schools, and pronounced the word ‘power’ as ‘par’, as in the golf term—a fact which endeared him to India’s anglophilic middle class. However, the ease with which Tharoor fell, as a result of a charge which, in Indian politics, was minor at best, points to how little explicit political power this demographic holds.

It wasn’t always like this, though. At independence, political power passed largely to a highly educated, urban leadership. This class used its new found power to great effect, knocking out feudalism from India’s power matrix—an achievement which tends to be undervalued till one looks across our western border. A highly centralised power structure kept this arrangement going for 40 years till Mandal and Mandir changed India’s political landscape, drastically curtailing the middle class’ political influence.

However, at the same time, India’s newly liberalised economy helped the middle class not only to become a lot richer but also became a lot larger. And, though it had lost a lot of political power, the urban middle class still enjoyed a disproportionately large share of the pie—Delhi’s power cuts cause a lot more consternation than the lack of power in UP.

In a bid to win over this growing class, lost to the the BJP in the 90s, the Congress air-dropped Tharoor onto the political scene. This coupled with Manmohan Singh’s favourable image and the general disarray the BJP finds itself in helped the Congress significantly in winning over the urban middle class. Unfortunately, Tharoor’s style was too much of a break with the way Indian politics works. However, as this middle class grows, it’s only a matter of time before it gets its own political representation.


Vikram said...

Superbly written. Perhaps I am wrong, but if the left parties of India were a little more pragmatic they could have wooed atleast a chunk of the middle class. Trust me, a large section of the middle class, though definitely not communist,is very supportive of redistribution and very upset with religious fanaticism and dynastism.

But that is not the case, and I dont who can mobilize the middle class in a meaningful way. I think Jayaprakash Narayan and his Lok Satta Party have a chance, if they can somehow become prominent in Andhra.

Atul Prasad said...

Thanks Hades !

Anonymous said...

I think Tharoor's resignation went with the image he has, and was required to maintain his power (pronounced as 'par') over his fans (not just voters).

Rakesh said...

I thought I was High class, but even I was impressed with Tharoor! I guess, I'm middle class after all :P

Btw, Congress did well to get a lot of such young second generation guys like Jindal, Scindia, Tharoor and on top of them you had the Prince Rahul himself. All of this together closed the case for a lot of people like us.

But utterly disappointing - the manner in which he had to exit. Almost felt like the oldy BJP fans telling the youngsters - see I told you so...

Hades said...

Thanks, Vikram. The point abt the communist parties appealing to the middle class is interesting. I'd love it if you can expand on that/provide justifucations.

I missed out one point, btw,:

In spite of having no explicit political representation, the middle class, as such, can get its voice heard in the corridors of power pretty well actually. For example, look at the brouhaha when LPG prices are raised. Compare this to the muted response when food prices shot though the roof over the past year. So maybe it’s just a case of political representation not existing cos there is no need. Other lobbyists such as the media do a good enough job.

Welcome, signor

I dunno…I still feel that people were still largely pro-tharoor till the end. I just don’t think the Congress felt the trouble was worth it. Other behind-the-scenes factors might have also played a part.


Yeah, you’re right; Rahul and Co would also be a big factor.