ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The 'Emerging' Middle Class

Role in the 2014 General Elections

This article is a look at the subtext of the transition from the politics represented by the United Progressive Alliance government to that represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party. On another level, an ethnographic reading of the voters' mood before the polls in parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh showed calm confidence and clarity in looking at the choices before them; few of them were emotional about the step they were about to take. Narendra Modi's catchy slogans were on the lips of many but this was no motional wave; it was more like contracting a new service provider to see whether he would deliver.

Beyond the immediate nitty-gritty of the Bharatiya Janata Party-National Democratic Alliance’s (BJP-NDA) spectacular win in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it is important to understand the socio-economic changes that help explain this outcome and what it means for the future. Was it simply the acute mismanagement of the economy by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) II or the numerous scams that blighted it that turned the tide in favour of Narendra Modi’s BJP? Or was it the general sense of dissatisfaction beginning with the mass protests (not yet movements) against corruption or gender crime? Or was it, as some have termed it, the modern, imaginative and thorough “marketing” of Modi that was successful in seducing the middle-class voter? More importantly, did Modi’s promises to revive the economy, build infrastructure, create jobs, root out corruption, i e, deliver a reversal of jobless growth, resonate with large sections of the population?

Before I address the subtext of the transition from the politics represented by the UPA to those represented by the BJP, I present an ethnographic reading of the voters’ mood based on a trip I undertook in a small swathe of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP) in early May. Proceeding from Patna, taking in a rally by Modi and Paswan, another one by Nitish Kumar and a short meeting with Laloo Prasad Yadav, and then continuing on to Varanasi and Allahabad, sitting in at rallies addressed by Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav, stopping in homes in villages, small towns, at shops and dhabas (highway eateries) along the way, I formed a sense of how people of diverse socio-economic, caste and religious backgrounds were thinking about the elections. One of the things that unequivocally stood out was the pervasive “name recognition” that Modi had managed to achieve. In these areas, dominated by Yadavs, Muslims, Jatavs, Thakurs, brahmins, Bhumihars and other caste identities, people may not have known the various parties or even party symbols but they knew that one name – Modi. It was interesting, though, that many older or illiterate persons knew only the symbols and had no clue of party names and knowledge of the kamal (lotus, the BJP’s symbol) was especially pervasive.

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