Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Who are the Educated Middle Class People?

Till some time back (might be a decade) the ‘Educated Middle Class’ was a secluded minority with only BJP to its side. In the nineties no political party other than BJP used to think of the people belonging to this minority community.

Things have changed since the days of nineties. The sample space of polulation which constituted the ‘middle class’ has also changed drastically over the decade. The vivacious and change-thirsty younger generation of the middle class, mostly urbanized, of the nineties, then in their twenties or early thirties, is now middle aged and many of them have moved to the upper middle class category. Their ideas and ideologies are no doubt important even in today’s political scenario. But they no longer command the strength in terms of critical mass. There have been innumerable new entrats in the category of middle class, thanks to the trememdous economic growth that the country has seen over the past one decade.

No doubt education is still an important distinguishing factor for people entering into ‘middle class’, but its form has changed a lot. Education has perhaps taken the real form only in recent past when it’s no longer restricted only to books and examinations. Lots of hitherto unexplored avenues have opened up innumerable options for people. Vocational training has become very important along side conventional education, of schools and colleges and examsm, for most of these new avenues.

The surge in business in areas of BPO, textiles, travel, tourism, hospitality, entertainment, communication and many others has triggered the requirement of huge resources all of whom may not be highly educated in conventional terms, but surely trained adequately. This entire new group of people and their families have slowly marched into the middle class.

The driver who drove me around in my recent trip to Uttarakhand, the petty vendior who supplies mid-day lunch in front of the Wipro Corporate office on Sarjapur Road in Bangalore, my previous driver who now runs his own real estate agency at a suburban Bangalore locality, the milkman, the lady who has been selling flowers to us since the past many years and recently setup a decent sized flower stall in front of our apartment, the plumber who now has his own hardware shop and many people around me are no longer struggling lower class people. Almost all of them have two wheelers and every one of them has a mobile. All of them are the new entrants to middle class. Are they educated? I would say, yes. They do read news papers, may not be in English, watch televisions, are aware of the recent economic downturn and all of them have the same ambition and vision as mine - to achieve more in life. It would have been really a ridiculous day-dreaming even a decade back to think of the sort of improvement that these people have made in their life. But it’s a reality now. They are now in the same category that I belong to and have been belonging to for the past many decades.

It’s very important to acknowledge this drastic change in the membership to the club of Middle Class. No longer is this club a neglected one. Suddenly the whole political class has understood the strength of this class and has started ‘appeasing’ them, if at all I should use the word ‘appease’ which is generally used in some other context. But is this context different? No. All political parties want to woe this newly visible and prospective powerful class in all possible ways. It’s no longer a class that matters only to BJP. But it’s something that matters to all because it has attained a critical mass, which is impossible to ignore.

It would be foolish to assume that this entire class watches the so called English Language Media and are swayed away by some sort of pro UPA and anti BJP propaganda of Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt. Yes, a part of this class is indeed influenced by the media, specially the English, but the majority of this class still watches vernacular channels.

My aunt, more than seventy years of old, regularly watches local Bengali channels in Calcutta and reads regularly Bengali periodicals and novels. Even my mother, though a doctorate and would be retiring from a central government job this year, prefers to watch Bengali channels than NDTV or CNN IBN. Same is the case with many of my Kakimas (aunties) and Kakus (uncles) and dadas and didis across the country. Same is the case with the driver Prakash who drove me around for fourteen days across Uttarakhand in April just before the polls. All of them belong to different parts of India and all belong to the middle class and all of them don’t create their own views based on the English Language Media. But still they didn’t vote for BJP this time.

Prakash told me in the first week of April that BJP won’t get a single seat in Delhi. Now it’s like a prophecy, but then I just laughed and thought he was being partial to Congress, which I finally found out he was not. He himself adores BJP for all the work it has done. He showed me enthusiastically the development in Uttarakhand that the BJP governemtn has done. But still he told me very clearly that people have the ‘perception’ that BJP may make things ‘unstable’. That was exactly the same thing that I heard even from many of my Kakus and Kakimas later. So we can’t rule out this perception as being created by the English Language Media.

I feel BJP has to take a stock of this new much-aware and off-course-not-fool Middle Class. It would be foolish to blame the English Language Media totally for creating a perception. This would be again under estimating the intelligence level of the Middle Class people. They are more aware than what others can think of. If my seventy plus aunty can know about Amartya Sen as the person who can eradicate hunger and famine in years if given a chance, why can’t someone else know about, say, Nandan Nilekani?

If Middle Class could do the right thing in nineties in bringing BJP to power, why should we assume that they have created a wrong and biased perception of the same party now? So the bottom-line is that, Middle Class was intelligent ten years back. They are no less intelligent now. If their perception changes they will again bring back BJP to power.

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