Monday, December 15, 2014

BJP Government - Indian middle-class's deal with the devil

Right when the BJP came to power with a thumping majority, a large part of modern(-ish) middle-class India knew we had made a deal with the devil. We all knew that this group of fellows would talk the talk and hopefully walk the walk also as far as basic governance and economy were concerned. We also knew that they were blessed with a section that can be politely termed as "lunatic fringe" that would somehow feel empowered to voice its opinions and spout general garbage.

In fact, we even knew that some elements who had kept their inner lunatic under control for many years, would now get the courage to voice their view without fear of ridicule. We had hoped that this book-revising, moralizing, nonsense-spouting brigade would be kept in check and that the big daddy about town was so serious about modernizing India that he would not get distracted with this. That hope still lives on. But the absolute conviction that the Messiah had arrived is gone. With Ms. Swaraj's brilliant idea of calling the Bhagwad Gita a national book, we can confidently say the honeymoon period is over. 

For a machinery that is so conscious of manipulating the news cycle, this government has been losing the PR war over the past few weeks. And funnily enough, the opposition has had little to do with this.

This government will be evaluated on both metrics - Right now they are in trouble

The first few months had the gentlemen talking reforms, foreign trips, goodwill gestures, etc. The last few weeks have been full of Sadhvis and conversions.

It is incumbent upon Indian middle-class to communicate that we will not put up with this revisionism; that we feel that this is abhorrent. If the middle-class does not convey this, it will further embolden the fringe to try more stunts.

What exactly did we (Indian middle-class) sign up for?

As an electorate, we do not ask for much. We do not want big bang reforms. We want a quietly efficient government that lets us carry on with life. We do not want government leading the charge on anything. Keep regulations uncomplicated, taxation non-onerous, government-servants non-smug; provide roti, bijli, pani for people. Thats about it really. Anything more is a bonus. The bar on governance is really low here.

But having said this, Indian middle-class also does not put up with moralizing, sanctimonious, religious-triumphalism.

This is the deal we signed up for in May 2014. If the government cannot deliver on this, then all bets on performance-led government are off. A world where the Economy grows 11% every year, but one in which Pravin Togadia should be taken seriously would be a sad state of affairs.

If the fringe keeps talking, the pressures on the government will shoot up. And this is something Mr. Shah and Mr. Modi need to keep in mind.

Where does the government stand now?

Not as high as they think they are on the Economy-front, but far worse than what they imagine they are on the lunacy front.

Why this is such a big deal? Because the jury is still out on what kind of person our PM is

The key questions surrounding Mr. Modi are - Is he a fiercely secular person who just happens to be religious? Or, is he merely a pragmatist who is going to push 'Hindutva' sooner or later? The above chart is from a previous post on Nehru, religion and secularism

People who voted for Mr. Modi, ones who were very happy that we finally had a 'strong' leader are still not sure which of the two slots Mr. Modi occupies. Mr. Modi has stayed away from all religion talk thus far. In the first few months, when no one else was talking religion this was good enough. But now, when everyone else seems to have developed a taste for religious triumphalism, this aint good enough.

Saying nothing now would be akin to when Mr. Manmohan Singh said he was a person of integrity, when all and sundry in his cabinet was filling his boots. At least Mr. Singh had the excuse of being merely a lame duck, Mr. Modi has not that luxury. If he cannot contain Ms. Sadhvi from saying inane things, whats the point of that 56-inch chest?

Sooner or later, the PM must come out and say in as many words that some of these jokers are talking out of their hat. Silence will not cut it any more. And as the middle-class, if we cannot convey that, the joke really is on us.


  1. Technically, this article is coming from an upper middle class guy ;) and my recent brushes/skirmishes/debates with the middle and lower middle class where I originally hail from suggests that I no longer understand what they really think or what really matters to them. I thought Nitish had done good work in Bihar, only to realize that his going against Mr. Modi and BJP's saffronisms did not work out too well for him (and will continue to become worse). And in the absence of editorials that I could trust, a dipstick survey of nearby people, auto drivers, ricksha-wallas, shopkeepers, government employees, etc. in Bihar revealed that the popular opinion is - "sir -- ooo paglaa gaye hain pradhanmantri banne ka laalach mein. Acha badhiyaan chal rahe the, pata nahi kaahe narendar modi se bhid giye"

    Second, the ex-consultant in me remarks that these charts are created because you have, like consultants, started loving charts and 2x2s. So unlike of you!! But in the absence of axis, footnotes, source of data, these seem like SME opinions forced in a grid, and hence not sound enough. :-) {you are not allowed to hurl shoes at me}

    Third, unlike a certain muffl(er)ed force in North, our man of the moment seems clearly set to last 5 years. And if is as smart a politician as he has proved himself to be so far, I think he will get a few things right, and maybe, not make the India Shining mistake. And if he does get a few things right (one of them could be, say, something like a random attack on Pakistan because that will get him a lot of votes), the bar on governance, as you rightly point out, is very very low.

    Lastly, what I believe is the biggest mistake of this post. You are underestimating the religious and racial fanaticism deeply ingrained in a large proportion of our population. My hypotheses at times is just the opposite (and I have not established any empirical research to support it or otherwise for the fear of the ultimate depression I will find myself in) - He will succeed because of exactly the same reasons that the upper middle class is scared of him. The issues that seem to bother you, dont quite matter. I remember 1992. And it still surprises me how much hatred and religious idiocy "normal" "middle class" people have.

    1. Amit: Points noted on almost all counts. I realized soon enough that the graphs were irrelevant. I had another graph in mind, which did not come out well so stuck this in. ;-) Not yet a consultant though

      More importantly, I think you have made a very critical point in the last paragraph. I would just like to point out that the "upper middle class" distinction you have drawn is not that valid. The extent to which Indian Hindus are mildly happy when someone (anyone really) fingers the minorities is scary.

      So, when all of the gimmicks such as conversions happen, the vast majority is probably smiling to itself. And this is what scares me also the most. I do not want to believe it, but I am afraid it is true.

  2. You start with the assumption that middle class has taken a calculated risk by voting for BJP implying they abhor the Hindutva ideology. Well, thats just not true. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is the educated, "modernish", middle class which has been the core support base of the BJP since its inception. Surveys over the decade will bear this out, but a telling anecdotal evidence is the fact none of the other parties have historically received even a fraction of support that BJP enjoys from the Indian diaspora - an excellent proxy for the middle class - and mind you, this has predated the arrival of NM on the scene. The larger point is that this mandate was not just for development, it was for development plus Hindutva - evidence, its most spectacular victory came in UP (from #4 to #1) which saw major riots since 2012. It also put up an shockingly strong showing in two states where it was previously a bit player - WB and Assam - and what was the major electoral issue there? illegal muslim migration.