Gujarat 2012: Modi has his sights set on the middle class

If a few days back Narendra Modi trumped his political peers in technology by organising an elaborate 3D campaign that became the toast of even the international media, he has now gone out and sought the support of the middle class directly. Though the votes from this section of the society are equally craved by all the parties, most of them refuse to call a spade a spade and address them as the 'middle class', possibly fearing class controversies.

“Due to the quantum leap in development in the last 10 years, middle class families have increased in Gujarat. Such neo middle class category will be defined and welfare schemes will be worked out for this category. Similarly, based on income and other parameters, middle class would be defined to introduce welfare schemes for them,” the BJP’s election manifesto, Sankalp Patra read.

Narendra Modi.

Besides detailing it in an audio-visual presentation, Modi spoke at length about the middle class in his media briefing on the occasion. “The middle class plays an important and challenging role in social and economic transformation of society. Its role has to be recognised. The emergence of the neo middle class has to be redefined," he said.

He went on to add that, “The middle class keeps on worrying about health issues, so I am going to extend the health care related benefits to them.”

Modi then spoke of certain measures that had been earlier announced for the poor and weaker sections of the society - he said that the same benefits will be made available for the middle class too. His government will also introduce a state-funded insurance for accidental deaths for all its citizens - thereby addressing a major apprehension of the middle class.

The term 'middle class' had quietly slipped out of the vocabulary of political narratives a while back. It definitely needed some amount of boldness for Modi to talk about it openly at the all important occasion of the party's manifesto release.

Modi's own party, the BJP, stopped bringing up the 'middle class' exclusively after it took a beating in the metros, Delhi and Mumbai, in the 2004 and 2009 polls. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, influenced by her party's socialistic posturing, also seems to have forgotten the 'middle class' while going all out to woo the 'aam aadmi'. Even the latest entrant in the political ring, Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party, seem to be focusing on the class of people the political vocab refers to as 'aam aadmi'.

While Modi waxed eloquent about providing sops to people belonging to what he called the 'middle class', he didn't elaborate on the details. Though Modi's measures for the middle class might be more rhetorical than anything else at this juncture, the latter seems to be happy to have been at least directly addressed by a top political leader in the country.

A sizable section of them look at Modi as a strong development oriented leader, who is firm and decisive while handling any situation.

By using the word navodit, meaning newly-rising or neo-middle class, Modi seems to have tried to reach out to not only the people of Gujarat but also the same section of people in the rest of India. By riding on and hard-selling the development story and promising endless opportunities for young entrepreneurs, Modi probably hopes to woo the middle class across the country.

Also, since the middle class is not too taken up by caste issues and Modi is himself critical of caste-based politics, this is an electorate that he can fall back on if he has to make it big in national politics too. Interestingly, Modi himself belongs to one of the classes enlisted under the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) but not many know of it as he has never played it up for political purposes.

However, referring to the middle class was not the only way Modi seemed to have broken away from conventional political rhetoric. His press briefing and the release of the manifesto also did not have several of the staples of the pre-poll political address. There was not talk of free TV, free laptops, reservations etc that echo through the country during any election.

However, he announced some innovative schemes like dry land farming, setting up of a skill development university etc. Also the thrust of the address seemed to be on the youth of the state and progress of women.

His poll slogan too has been an all-inclusive “Sarvasparshi, Sarvavyapi, Sarvasamavak, Sarvapriya, Sarvangin Vikar" which talks about welfare for all.

Modi came very close to admitting that Congress’ Ghar Nu Ghar (subsided housing scheme for women and rural poor) had caught on popular imagination. It is in common knowledge that he had come up with the ambitious Mukhymantishri Grih Samrudhhi Yojana in retaliation. Under the scheme worth Rs 3,3000 crore, 50 lakh houses are supposed to be built in 28 lakh rural areas and 22 lakh urban areas.

A senior BJP leader in Gujarat and a trusted Modi aide told Firstpost: "Given Modi's track record, people would naturally believe in him than in Congress’s promise, which is only an election gimmick.”

To bolster his argument he pointed out a fact in the manifesto. It mentions that in 40 years when Modi was not in power, the governments in Gujarat have been able to build just 12 lakh houses for the urban and rural poor. However, the Modi government has helped build 22 lakh houses in 11 years.

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