Originally published here.
The battle for the next Lok Sabha has begun a full sixteen months before the term of the current Lok Sabha ends. With the Congress set to kick-off its strategic planning for the 2014 (or earlier) polls the opening shots were fired by the man it perhaps fears the most but acknowledges the least – Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Speaking in Chennai a day before the Congress’ so called “chintan shivir”, Mr. Modi declared that the Congress lead UPA had failed to deliver and hence would be voted out of power in the next elections.
The Congress’ so called “Chintan Shivir” has drawn quite a bit of coverage in the days preceding it. It is amusing to note though the myriad expectations from it doing the rounds in the media ranging from the expectation of a “new vision” from Rahul Gandhi to the expectation that Sonia Gandhi will define that party’s agenda for the 2014 elections. Never before has an event drawn so much anticipation in the media where the principal protagonists have been so distant and disdainful of the media. Neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul Gandhi have spoken a word to the media so far and nor does it appear they will be doing so anytime soon. But the breathless speculation nevertheless continues.
The deliberations at this “Chintan Shivir” we are told will herald the dawn of a new era (I am being facetious). But if the media commentary on this so called “brainstorming” session anything to go by we will see an agenda that is both for reforms and not so much for reforms. We are also told that we will see an agenda that is about the Middle Class while it appears Congress strategists are still confused if their “Aam Admi” is in or out of the “Middle Class”. Then we have the never ending speculation of a “larger role” for Rahul Gandhi.
Perhaps the most disdainful of developments related to the “Chintan Shivir” is this talk of a new slogan from the Congress that goes something like “Pehle hoga Naari ka Samman …..” leaving one wondering what exactly was the Congress doing for the past 8 years that in the 9th year of its rule in Delhi it has woken up to the need for “respect for women”. Various media outlets have attributed credit for this contemptuous slogan to the “political genius” of Jairam Ramesh. If indeed this is true it makes one wonder what exactly was he thinking in coining a slogan that only ends up reminding the Woman Voter of 8 long years of neglect by the UPA while the UPA obsessed over dubious “Rights” and flawed “Entitlement Programs”.
The Congress spin doctors in the media have been working overtime over the past week to project the “Chintan Shivir” as some sort of breakthrough event with its focus on Youth and Women. The reality is the Congress lead UPA does not understand the “Neo-Middle Class” aspirations as expressed by the Young Voter and the Women Voter, most recently in Gujarat. The past 8 years of UPA rule in Delhi have been marked by a singular neglect of the kind of Governance this country needs to realize the dreams and aspirations of the “Neo Middle Class”. Over the past 8 years the UPA in Delhi has only drifted from one entitlement program to another while paying lip service to reforms.
The hard reality for the Congress lead UPA however is that the “Neo Middle Class” aspirations will not be realized with a repeat of the cheerleading we saw in Delhi a few months back where a complicit media in Delhi joined the bandwagon to pass off “FDI on Retail” as some kind of a reform.
The Young Voter of India is not merely interested in handouts. The Young Voter of India wants the kind of Governance that creates more Economic Opportunities, helps him or her move up the social ladder. The Women Voter of India is not merely interested in more “Rights”. The Women Voter of India wants the kind of Governance that guarantees personal safety while she realizes her dreams and aspirations.
The horrific tragedy in Delhi last month in a way exemplifies how this Neo-Middle Class dream was shattered because of decades of reforms not undertaken. Here was a family of modest means that went the extra mile to educate the Girl Child, empower the Girl Child to go as far as she could and aspire for something bigger and better, far beyond her social station. Here was a System of Governance in Delhi, rotten at its core that was bucking responsibility, diluting its accountability in the process removing what few systemic barriers existed in preventing the horrific criminal behavior that ended that Neo-Middle Class dream prematurely.
For all the high-brow “strategizing” the Congress comes up with in Jaipur and the many clever slogans, the reality is the Young Voter and the Women Voter of India wants to know from the Congress lead UPA what it was doing for the past 8 years that it has only now woken to belatedly talk of “pehle samman” even as it postpones the agenda of Development with loose talk of “baad mein nirmaan”.
The battle for 2014 will be about many issues in many states. But if there is one overarching that will emerge in the weeks and months to come it will about question of what kind of Government do we want – Do we want a Government that hoodwinks us with phony Rights, phony Reforms and handouts or a Government that is about real reforms in governance while creating more Economic Opportunities ?
The jury may be out on what preoccupies the Congress the most in Jaipur – “chinta or chintan” over its faltering Aam Admi agenda. Either way it will signal the coming of age of India’s Neo-Middle Class as a Political Constituency that matters.
Filed under: Gender Justice, India Elections 2014, Local Governance, Narendra Modi, Neo Aspirational class, Neo Middle Class, New Middle Class, UPA-II Critical Appraisal