Do the Ruling Ideas belong to the Ruling Class? This is the question that we , the civil society, probably need to ‘ask’ ourselves as we are hurtling towards the Lok Sabha elections scheduled for the next month. The stage is set with the grand old Congress party being discredited, AAP’s new entrants flexing their muscles, the regional satraps doing what they do best, sitting at the fence for the time being and trying to anticipate which way the wind would blow. Going strong at the moment is the Narendra Modi bandwagon, powered by the unambiguous support of the big business and resolutely supported by the urban middle class.
One is still not certain about how well Mr. Narendra Modi’s campaign would fare in the rural areas, particularly in the cow belts where the caste equations still loom large. it would seem that the only way his party can do well there is by embedding itself within the matrix of overlapping caste loyalties like other regional parties. But it is almost certain that he would be difficult to stop wherever the urban middle class can call the shots, occasional nibbling away by AAP notwithstanding. That’s the Modi Effect!
So what explains the middle class fascination with Mr. Modi? Personal charm or charisma certainly aren’t Mr. Modi’s strong points; by no means he is an inspiring orator, he has been in news for being ill-informed both about the history and the current events. He has been lampooned by the opposition for his lack of education and his not so exemplary personal life. An abandoned wife and allegations of snooping upon a young girl are hardly the traits of an inspirational figure.
And yet, surprisingly, every time Mr. Modi has been brought under fire by the opposition, his middle class constituency has responded with an ever-increasing resilience. The enthusiasm for Modi chai sabhas is reflective of the fact that every time the opposition has unleashed its barrage upon Mr. Modi for his lack of cultural capital, the volley has backfired. Now suddenly there seems to be a wave of sympathy for his lack of education; equally astonishing has been the sudden discovery of Mr. Modi’s OBC roots and the middle class empathy with it. So what explains the middle class fascination for Mr. Modi. i.e. why is the middle class being able to identify with the signals that Mr. Modi’s career and Modi brand beams?
Mr. Modi is being cheered as the ‘underdog’ who is poised to penetrate the impregnable fortress that Lutyen’s Delhi has been since independence. For the greater part of the history of the Indian parliamentary system, Delhi political elite has resembled an old boys’ club, St. Stephen’s alumni, old Harvard graduates, polished English speaking sahibs, the kind which make the average middle class individual uncomfortable in his shoes; and this has been true of politicians cutting across political affiliations.
Now Mr. Modi, a rank outsider by all standards, is threatening to storm this bastion; as the browns sahibs fidget, the new ascendant middle class is watching with eagerness and obvious glee. Mr. Modi’s career could be the life story, real or desired, of every middle class youth, who packs his bag and arrives at one of the bigger cities with the dreams of making it big; an upstart who made it big through his ruthless pursuit of power and fame, blots like Gujarat riots are inevitable, the dark underbelly of every success story.
The ideal for the ascendant middle class is not the third generation suave sahib born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Today’s ideal is the typical nouveau riche, the first generation enterprising daredevil who made it big through his killer instinct. The middle class of India has been bought over by its own desi version of the ‘Great American Dream’; this is a country with immense potential which allows youth with talent and ability to work hard to rise up in life. There are just two villains in this beautiful dream; silver spoon fed children of the old elite, who inherit undeserving success and the rabid socialists who raise the voices of the losers in this great Indian gold rush. This attitude makes the middle class wage a two-way struggle; against the old congress dynasts who desire to cling on to their privileges at the Lutyens Delhi and the bitter jhola chhaap lefties who being losers as they are, cannot bear to see the hardworking succeed.
Mr. Modi is the battering ram with which the middle class delivers shattering blows both ways; it is unlikely that a more potent weapon for the purpose would materialise in the near future. This two-pronged nature of the middle class dream makes it possible for the Modi bandwagon to appear anti-privilege at the same time as it is anti-masses. The upwardly mobile middle class has as much grouse against the undeserving elite, as it has animosity toward the ‘losers’ below who seek what the middle class refers to as the ‘unearned doles/freebies’. And it requires the no-nonsense approach of a rag to riches prince like Modi to dislodge the brown sahibs and babus at the same time as it decimates the strength of the organized toiling masses who seek socialistic measures from the government.
This brings us to the question that we began with: do the ruling ideas belong to the ruling classes? A classic case of selling old wine in a new bottle; the big business in the India has been able to sell to the middle class the age-old bourgeois ideology: in the market, those who are deserving and willing to work hard succeed. So the socialists who try to point at structural reasons that ensure the perpetuation of privileges in the same families generation after generation and the fact that the profits for a handful are based upon the exploitation of the majority are just rabble rousers, or worse, unproductive losers. Yours truly never fails to feel fascinated with the number of young aspiring middle class youth he met, who feel that they are just temporarily embarrassed millionaires in-the-waiting happened to have temporarily fallen in poverty. Today the big bourgeois ideology of ‘perfect justice through perfect competition’ and ‘winner takes it all’ has been almost completely accepted by the vast majority of the middle class which has now enlisted itself in the service of the big business. Indeed the ideas amenable to the perpetuation of the class rule of the big business belong not just to them, but as much to the new middle class which is today the standard-bearer and mass basis of the bourgeois ideology. After all as future entrepreneurs and hangers-on of the existing ones they need to watch over their interests.
Unfortunately, the ‘Great Indian Dream’ resembles Bollywood cinema; it sells dreams but has no relationship with the reality as it exists. The handful of families that run the big business in this country (and elsewhere) are like a closed caste which hardly brook new entrants. To say the least, there are just too few places at the top to accommodate more than a handful of individuals from among the millions who harbor such dreams. And it would appear that they are not too generous vis-a-vis generating employment either. Work hours seem to be getting longer and longer, so that two persons’ work is done by one individual resulting in lower rate of generation of employment.
Market regulated wage rates in an economy with relatively high rate of unemployment means that wages have a tendency to approach the minimum possible. But the dreams live on, and thrive, every middle class professional seems to believe that among all his colleagues he is the one who would beat all the rest and rise to the top. Competition is what defines the middle class life today, aptly portrayed by movies like ‘The Three Idiots.’ There are just too few seats in the handful of elite colleges and too few jobs to be grabbed. Competition within the middle class gives rise to a unique psyche; winners in this rat race show utter contempt for the ones who lose the race; combined with a deep sense of disdain and animosity to those who are above due to filial connections/privileges. This in a nutshell is also the form of Modi politics; replace the congress prince and show apathy for those who are not strong enough to be winners.
It is a famous bourgeois saying that socialism is a losers’ ideology. Very few know that a socialist once replied to it by saying ‘we fully accept this allegation; if the majority in this system are destined to be losers’ then why not? Let the losers’, who constitute the vast majority in this system unite’ under the leadership of the most oppressed sections of the society. But I guess, for the time being, the middle class would rather consume the opiate of the ‘Modinomics’; even though its mirror image, ‘the great american dream is in shambles today’.
By Pranshu Prakash
Photo Courtesy: Modi Bharosa.com