A Ship About To Sink & It's The Middle Class, Stupid

Two interesting articles about the state of affairs in my motherland…


Pritish Nandy 19 March 2011

I like Manmohan Singh. He has immaculate credentials. It’s these credentials that have seen the UPA through its most stormy years. If Singh wasn’t Prime Minister, the Government would have collapsed a long time back. No, not because of its inherent coalition contradictions but because it’s simply not possible for so many crooks with conflicting agendas to loot the country together, almost as if in perfect unison. The Indian Political Philharmonic Orchestra must be the world’s most amazing cacophony of rogues, rascals and robbers.

Luckily for the UPA, there was always Singh to fall back on. Most middle class Indians refuse to be cynical. We know exactly what’s happening around us, we criticise it constantly, but when it comes to the crunch we all rally around the nation and the flag. We are not bat-brained paranoids. Neither are we wide-eyed innocents ready to buy into every ridiculous explanation thrown our way to explain the loot that’s taking place in broad daylight. But the latest season of scams has flummoxed all. This is not just Alibaba and his chaalis chors. Everyone among the chaalis chors is another Alibaba with his own chaalis chors. That’s the way the pyramid of crime operates today. But because Singh, soft spoken and self effacing, is the face of this Government, India has kept faith.

But now, enough is enough. Neither Singh nor Pranab Mukherjee, nor anyone else is capable any more of saving this Government. It’s neck deep in its own sticky sleaze. What’s worse, you haven’t seen anything yet. All these scams are but the tip of the iceberg. Talk to anyone and you will get an instant dhobi list of scams in queue to break. No, I am not saying this. Congress leaders are, in private. Look at Singh, wan and way-lost. Or Mukherjee going apoplectic in faux anger because he has to defend what he knows is indefensible. They look less convincing than Rakhi Sawant playing Joan of Arc.

The problem is: We have voted into power the stupidest bunch of thieves. They are such losers that they can’t steal a hamburger without leaving ketchup stains all over. Yet they are constantly trying to pull off the biggest scams in history. From Rs 64 crore in Bofors, they have upped the ante to Rs 170,0000 crore in 2G and no, I am not including hundreds of aircraft Air India bought while sinking into bankruptcy and preposterous sums spent on arms deals that have made India the world’s second largest arms buyer when we can’t provide food and healthcare to 60% Indians. Our leaders are making deals on the sly with greedy builders, land sharks, illegal mining companies, corporate fixers, shady arms dealers and, oh yes, US diplomats who want to manipulate our political choices. And, what’s more amazing, they do it like bungling idiots. Even Inspector Clouseau can outwit them.

But that doesn’t mean they are not malevolent. These are people who are destroying India from within. They are not just robbing you, me, and the exchequer. They are destroying institutions, subverting laws, vandalising our heritage and history, and trying to build a dazzling, amoral edifice of crime and corruption unprecedented in the nation’s history. It’s a scary scenario that could turn the land of the Mahatma into one gigantic Gotham City with a flyover to hell.

But my question is more basic: Can we trust these idiots to run this great nation? If you travel and meet people across India, you will realise that for every scam that breaks-and currently there’s one breaking every week-there are ten more waiting in line. The media has never had it so good! And it’s the same gang whose names keep coming up. Kalmadi, Satish Sharma, Sant Chatwal, Ashok Chavan. The NCP lot. The DMK. And everyone, in private, is protesting his own innocence,
pointing fingers at someone else. It’s a sure sign of a collapsing regime. It’s what happened when Rajiv with a staggering majority in parliament lost his mandate to govern. Rats alone don’t leap off a sinking ship. So do everyone else.

So even though Singh, like Pontius Pilate, may wash his hands off every scam that hits the headlines, the fact is: The longer this Government stays, the more compromised the Congress will be, and the less capable of coming back to power. You can’t allow the sovereignty of a nation to be compromised just to win a confidence vote. You can’t bribe MPs to get your way in parliament. You can’t allow a shady hotelier, with CBI cases against him, to play roving diplomat and, worse, give him a Padma Bhushan for it. You can’t appoint a tainted bureaucrat as the nation’s CVC. You can’t file a FIR against a corrupt CM and then allow him to melt away. You can’t let the prime witness to the nation’s biggest scam, who offered to turn approver, be murdered in broad daylight and pretend it’s a suicide.

If this is the best this Government can do, it’s time to step down. 


It’s the middle class, stupid!

SWAGATO GANGULYSWAGATO GANGULY | Aug 19, 2011  (Times of India)

Nobody within the government saw it coming. The middle class has risen massively in support of Anna Hazare, upsetting the government’s calculations about being able to manage the anti-corruption movement easily. In doing so, the middle class has upended the received wisdom that it is politically apathetic.

Some element of that received wisdom must have played its part in the government’s assessment that the Hazare group was just an unrepresentative bunch of civil society activists who would be easily browbeaten. That assessment has proven spectacularly wrong, with the government having to eat humble pie on the very day he was arrested. It’s clear by now that Hazare’s arrest was the spark that lit a prairie fire of protests across the country.

The middle class has stamped its character on those protests in many ways, not limited to the goodly number of professionals, white-collar workers, housewives and college students hitting the streets in support of Anna. The protests are novel in that they have been remarkably disciplined and peaceful wherever they have been staged – as opposed to the rioting, stone-throwing, brick-batting, arson, prolonged public bandhs and damage to property that are the norm for political protests in India.

Moreover, instead of being relayed through caste, clan and kinship networks or routed through political parties, the organisers have used modern forms of communication – such as text messages, Twitter and Facebook – or relied on secular civic organisations to quickly assemble large crowds. And there’s no denying the role that saturation television coverage has played in transmitting their message.

That has caused some commentators to glibly conclude that the protests are a superficial TV phenomenon that will die down when the TV cameras go away. But the point about 24×7 news coverage is that the TV cameras never go away. In that sense, we live in an inherently tele-visual society; this has played a role in seminal events in history. The fall of the Berlin Wall, for instance, has been attributed partly to the beaming of West German TV images into East German homes, allowing people in the communist half a glimpse into life in West Germany.

For many of those who have hit the streets, it isn’t really about the merits or demerits of the Jan Lokpal over the Lokpal Bill, of which they have only a hazy idea. Rather, the Lokpal debate is merely a trigger for the sense of inchoate rage they feel at a political system which displays contempt for their priorities. It’s not divorced, for example, from their response to the outrageous loot of Commonwealth Games coffers, or to the fact that 76 MPs in the current Lok Sabha – 14% of its total strength – stand accused of not ordinary but serious crimes such as murder, kidnapping, extortion, rape.

For politicians of the old order (and professional pols belong mostly to the old order), only the two ends of the social spectrum matter. While moneyed elites can bring in the moolah, the poor masses have the votes. The middle classes don’t figure in this equation. On the other hand, when a middle-class person looks at the taxes deducted from his hard-earned salary, he’s liable to ask what the government is doing with his taxes. That’s a basis of democratic politics everywhere, but given shoddy governance standards in India the answers – or more accurately the lack of answers – are likely to enrage him. Taken in its widest sense, the theme of corruption is just a metaphorical way of broaching the question – what are you doing with my money?

It’s here that India has arrived at an inflexion point. The middle class (defined as those with monthly household income between Rs 20,000 and Rs 100,000) has exploded in numbers from 25 million in 1996 to 160 million currently. By 2015, it’s expected to hit 267 million. That makes it a significant proportion of the electorate, a ‘vote bank’ politicians can no longer afford to overlook. Moreover, this rapid rise in numbers indicates a shift in the balance of power within the middle class itself. The ‘new’ middle class – which owes nothing to state employment – is eclipsing the ‘old’ middle class that was a creation of the pre-liberalisation Nehruvian state.

The old middle class is less likely to question the state, since it is dependent for employment, professional life and pensions on the state. Moreover, its symbolic economy and world view are convergent with that of the state itself, and therefore its needs are better taken care of. It is the new middle class that has reason to feel disconnected. And it will count more and more as a strategic factor in Indian politics.

Anna Hazare is just a catalyst who happens to chime with the middle-class mood today. But the arrival of the new middle class is a more lasting phenomenon than Hazare himself. Just like the TV cameras, this middle class is not going to go away. Smart politicians had better hone their strategies to co-opt middle-class rage. They ignore it at their peril.


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