If I shift myself a little away from the noise, anarchy, contradictions and lost opportunities of India’s society and politics, and dispassionately observe all that is around , I see not merely the crossroads, but an interlinked, distorted web of them, with directionless forces moving in all directions, without an inkling of how to propel the nation forward along the right path. There are roundabouts, along which we have been aimlessly circling round and round, though what we should really be doing, very consciously and carefully, is breaking the circle at the right place and advancing forward. I see flyovers where the privileged, fortunate, industrious and crooked have been able to ascend to riches or power or fame, often at the cost of the nation and the multitudes trampled on the ground. And then there are tunnels, where the poor, hungry, and ignorant remain trapped, even 65 years after independence, without ever seeing the light at the end.
Indeed, there are not two, but three Indias. The first of the growing rich and the famous, whose wealth and ostentation matches if not exceeds that of the wealthiest on the planet. They make their presence felt in the lists of the richest people in the world. Like their counterparts elsewhere, they control governments and their institutions through their wealth. They hold enormous leveraging power, not only to protect but to expand their financial and economic interests, often at the cost of the national interest and the common good.
The second India consists of the new middle class, which had been growing unobtrusively over the last few decades. It might have hit our social and economic fabric during the IT boom, about fifteen years ago, when it made India a world leader in the IT sector. This India is well-educated, works hard, earns well, boasts of gender equality and has contributed handsomely to the economic growth of our country. As reported by
The Economist, it is this India that has the talent to lead in the mobile internet, as it did in outsourcing, provided the government gets its telecom house in order. To it belongs the malls and bars and the hotels, the brand names and the designer clothes. As their numbers expand, they change the character of urban and peri-urban India’s architecture, traffic, economy and demography. They indirectly also change the social dynamics of rural India, attracting a rural-urban migration, to serve their domestic and official demands. The malls, department stores, hotels, restaurants, beauty parlours and the gyms that cater to them also require manpower from the stage of construction to maintenance -- migration from all parts of the rural and the North-East is more than evident. I am told the size of the middle class in India has now reached 160 million individuals, nearing 20 per cent of the population in 2015 and which is expected to increase to 37.2 per cent by 2025-26.
Even today, the middle class holds a vital key to any national election, directly affecting the electoral outcomes in at least 40 per cent of the constituencies, urban or semi-urban. But, the middle class must first find a political voice and a political party through which it can articulate itself, just as its counterparts in 18 and 19 century England had to do through the Radical and Liberal Parties.
It is indeed paradoxical that the Indian state appears to be failing in direct proportion to the economic growth it is claiming to have achieved, and the burgeoning of the middle class. The Indian middle class wants things which every citizen of a modern country wants, but which our failed state is incapable of delivering anymore, such as, proper governance, proper civic amenities, law and order and public safety, freedom from harassment and corruption from politicians, bureaucrats, and touts. Cash and booze, white goods and caste reservations, the only electoral language that the present-day politicians know, mean nothing to them. The middle class has been the greatest victim of the state’s corruption and failure. Hence, their strong empathy and sustained presence during the anti-corruption protests of Anna Hazare and his team, that took the corruption opiated government completely by surprise. At last, they had found a platform from where they could speak.
The middle class has never been pampered in India. It never had the numbers, couldn’t influence electoral outcomes, and therefore, had no clout. This fast expanding new political force now desperately requires its own political outfit to protect its interests. And this is precisely what the existing political parties are trying to thwart, as they know the risks involved in it. But it is inevitable that their political formation will come. As Victor Hugo has said, “all the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
The third India is the India of the poor, the ignorant and the hungry. One sees families of them in every Indian city, living on the streets, under the flyovers and the bridges, their women and children begging at traffic junctions. In rural areas, they are at the lowest rung, doing menial jobs, emaciated and ill, debt-ridden and without assets. This third India can never be reached, never seems to change and is always left behind. It persists and perpetuates itself, whether the economic growth rate is 4 per cent or 8 per cent. These are the feeders and fodder of India’s democracy, generally viewed as a bunch of ballot papers -- the unlimited and eternal sea of votes that every political outfit lusts for. Leaders of the ruling political parties realised that keeping them this way is the surest way of maintaining captive vote banks to remain continuously in power. Unfortunately, even the Communists of Bengal fell prey to this inhuman strategy for power. They ruled Bengal for more than three decades. Yet, the economic development and the human development indicators of West Bengal are among the lowest in the country. Compare this with how the Russian Communists transformed their country into a military and scientific superpower within the same time. Can anyone answer why constituencies like Amethi and Rae Bareilly, the pocket borough of the Nehru-Gandhi family, which have been nursed by a string of Prime Ministers, have some of the lowest human development and economic indicators in the country. The answer is simple - obviously, because it is intentional.