When a matter of conviction becomes a matter of conviction with the possibility of bail being iffy, we have a problem. A young girl is arrested for sedition, her crime being editing a protest manual, which sterling national leaders call an attempt to divide India. There is fear in the country. Only, the ones afraid seem to be the police—an anti-national thought that journalists with opinions may well keep in mind while expressing such democratic heresy vis-a-vis hearsay.
The middle class is India’s engine of growth; the most taxed group in the country, but also the most qualified. Civil servants, economists, doctors, engineers, IT professionals, economists, corporate executives and other sections of the social elite are drawn from this small section—350 million to India’s total resident count of 138 crore. The middle class is also most distrusted by political parties the irony being it is needed to influence and perpetuate ideologies.
It is also fluent in the currently most hated language in the Hindi belt—English, which facilitates its members to navigate global opinion through social media, books and journals. Its relevance in the 21st century is also apparent in the social profile of citizens in jail and those who have FIRs registered against them for sedition and criticism of politicians. They are all from the middle class—journalists, students, stand-up comics, doctors, and social media junkies. Indeed, if a Facebook post, a tweet or a joke that has not even been cracked can land you in jail in spite of the Supreme Court’s strict instructions to the cops, the Indian middle class is indeed a fearsome beast.
According to the Association of Asian Studies and Ernst and Young projections, our middle-class population will be, by 2027, larger than that of China, USA and Europe—about 475 million by 2030, that is more middle-class consumers than China. Hanging the sword of sedition over their opinionated minds will further alienate India’s most powerful social class. Opinion is easy, opinion-makers are difficult.
India is a very young democracy, which is just learning to crawl. The British Parliament goes back to 1707. France became a democracy in 1792. The US Constitution was written in 1787 while India’s came into force in only 1950. The Jana Sangh, the BJP’s parent, was born only in 1951.
The party came to power on its own for the first time in 2014. It is finding its feet in the democratic ethos, and is unsure of how to respond to contrarians. It doesn’t have the experience of running a country that has opinions as diverse as its people. The Farmers’ Agitation is the first serious challenge faced by the party, which has seen only adoration and subservience so far. It is bewildered by the defiance from middle class to a law, which has been brought to improve the lot of India’s agriculturists.
It will take years, nay decades, for the BJP to mature into a genuinely democratic party that welcomes different opinions to enrich inputs and thought processes. It will take many terms in Parliament for its leaders to learn the toolkit of democracy and take criticism in their stride and skip the perils of xenophobia. This too shall pass. But try explaining that to Disha Ravi.
Ravi Shankar firstname.lastname@example.org