Searching For A New Ally

Rahul tried to establish an emotional connect with the people, but fact remains it has a constituency confined to the urban areas

LEADERSHIP

ARUN SRIVASTAVA

With the anointment of Rahul Gandhi as the number two leader in the party, the Congress leadership made it abundantly clear that it has changed its priorities and support base. At the 3 day Chintan Shivir in Jaipur the leadership also made it clear that it was no more interested in performing the balancing act between two divergent and highly antagonistic forces—the bourgeoning middle class and huge population of the rural poor. The changing political economic contour of rural India has turned the rural poor irrelevant in the present polity and political establishment. With the view to expand the party base precisely ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the Jaipur declaration of the Congress spoke of the rising educated and aspirational middle class and promised to create new opportunities for their advancement. The  declaration committed itself to representing India's 'middle ground', of speaking for its vast majority and fighting against fringe elements that foster divisive and destructive ideologies.
      This strategic shift must not cause any surprise. In fact a closer look at the strategy of party during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Dr Manmohan Singh leading it, would make it clear that the Congress has been getting ready to undergo a major political change for courting this new force. The Congress never operated on an ideological base. Obviously there was no political compulsion to adhere to ideological commitment. It has been a party of neo-liberals, democrats and elites for whom the tenets of liberal democracy mattered most than ideology. Naturally earlier the target for their political action was the poor and downtrodden. In the changed scenario the party desperately needed the middle class which incidentally  has been soft towards the BJP. The declaration makes it explicit: "The party commits to strengthening its support base--identifying its natural supporters, retaining the support of these sections that are with the Congress and winning over those sections that have drifted away." It was not without reason Sonia Gandhi on the second day of the conclave had acknowledged the declining political fortunes of the party and indicated that the organisation's revival would depend on mitigating the disillusionment of the growing middle classes as well as segments of the traditional vote bank. She refrained from precisely pointing to the 53 per cent of the rural poor, haijans and backwards.
     Ever since the 2009 Lok Sabha a section of the senior leaders have been clamouring to foist Rahul Gandhi. He was made general secretary but the lobbying did not stop. The delay ostensibly owed to the confusion in the leadership about economic characterization of India. Though Rahul tried to identify himself with the poor and dalits one thing was certain that he failed to evoke that amount of response from this section as was expected from the party. The fortnight long movement by Delhi’s middle class about the security of the women in the wake of rape and killing of the girl, made the leadership to draft Rahul. At shivir even Sonia emphasised the urgent need for reconnecting with the opinion-making section of the society. She observed: “We cannot allow our growing educated and middle-classes to be disillusioned and alienated from the political process."
     It is an irony that mute suffering has lost to vocal protest. The Congress leadership was swayed by the voice of protest of 45 percent middle class than caring for 53 percent of the rural poor. The Congress ought to realize at what cost it was purchasing the support of the middle class. The recent fortnight agitation might give the impression that the middle class has awaken to its social responsibility. But this is not the fact. Basically it was their sense of insecurity that forced them to hit the streets. The Congress leadership must realize that it is their self interest more than the collective interest of the society or country that propels them to act. No doubt the Congress won 92 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 from urban areas but the leadership should take pains to find out the percentage of the middle class vote.      
    The Congress must respect the sentiments of the huge propulsion of the urban middle class, but it should be cautious in painting a rosy picture of the economy. No doubt the Indian middle class is a major consumer market. But baring 10 percent the rest has not acquired a strong purchasing power. This has also affected creation of middle class. Undeniably the economic condition of the neo-middle class is no better than the rural poor. According to a rough estimate nearly 12 percent of neo middle class live at the periphery. A new study by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) suggests that if India continues its recent growth, average household incomes will triple over the next two decades and it will become the world’s 5th-largest consumer economy by 2025, up from 12th now. But this is far from the truth. In the backdrop of acute economic slow down and mounting unemployment this is an utopian proposition. India becoming a developed country is a distant dream. Obviously the Congress must adopt a pragmatic approach towards the middle class.  
      A closer look at the phenomenal ascendance of middle class would make it clear that from the pre-Independence days it has ruthlessly exploited and used the state machinery for its benefit.  It does not allow the government schemes and funds to reach to the rural poor. Their economic and political clout could be understood from the simple fact that at a time when the government has miserably failed to reach good education, health and sanitation to the majority of the people in rural areas, they have been enjoying the benefit of super specialty health services and rich educational facilities under the government patronage.     
        Rahul tried to establish an emotional connect with the people, but fact remains it has a constituency confined to the urban areas.  In fact it would not be an exaggeration to say that the party has left the vast population of the rural poor at the care of its allies. The move might be called a good politics, but the fact remains that it would obliterate the visibility of the 127 year old party.         

(Writer is a senior journalist and research fellow from Patna writing for Greater Kashmir. )
sriv52@gmail.com

Lastupdate on : Thu, 24 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 24 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 25 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST




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