Anna and middle-class angst

Preeti Mehra | Updated on November 13, 2017

Testing middle-class patience.

It is no wonder that the Anna Hazare agitation against corruption feeds the imagination of the urban middle class.

With dismal public services in cities, prices on the run and not enough issues to engage the youth, this was, in a way, waiting to happen. Political parties know only too well, and may be several agitators too, that the Jan Lokpal Bill in its current form cannot pass muster. Also that it is not possible to take away the mantle from Parliament — the elected representatives of a democracy or the judiciary. Yet, they are willing to vent their anger, lend their voice of support.

Why will they not be livid when basics such as decent healthcare, good education and public amenities are hard to come by?

Lack of basic amenities

Just a visit to one of our government hospitals in Delhi is enough to tell you why the middle class is angry. Why it feels a certain sense of frustration.

It cannot afford the five-star rates of private hospitals, but it cannot stand the state of our crowded public health services which are sans basic amenities such as benches, water, toilets and cleanliness. “We work, we pay our taxes, why don't we get decent healthcare at affordable prices?” asks a youngster, accompanying an elderly patient at the Capital's Ram Manohar Lohia hospital.

Education too poses the same paradox. Though private schools are highly priced and getting admission a big struggle, a lot of the middle class avoids government schools to educate their children. They are in a sorry state, not a place you want your children in, they say in exasperation.

If you go for a passport, it is the same story. Though the middle class is upwardly mobile and savvy enough to fill the online passport form where a time and date is given to present the documents, chaos prevails there as well. The man at the passport office gate asks you to go straight to Counter 10 at the back of the building, even as he deals with 400 people and a logjam of honking cars with no place to park.

At the building's rear you hope there will be more semblance of order, but in vain. The serpentine queues of lost souls are no doubt standing in line, but none is sure if they are at the right window as none have numbers. Each one in the queue asks the other, is this Counter No 10? And promptly proceeds to curse under his or her breathe the state of the passport office, the state of governance and the state of the nation. Yes, these people are angry, for in case they have forgotten to staple their papers, there is no stapler at hand. If they have forgotten to gum the photograph, God only help them. “Even the post office has better facilities,” says one. “There's not even a bench to sit or a special window for senior citizens,” says another in exasperation.

So why will the middle class not be fuming? In the Capital city of a ‘super power' in the making, they do not find simple amenities. When they go to pay their property tax or to get a driving licence, the same commotion prevails. Sure, the bus service has improved, but at Rs 20 one way, it is a drain on the pocket. And so is full cream milk at Rs 35 a litre, apples at Rs 150 a kg and movie tickets at Rs 250.

Scams galore

Then the scams fuel the middle class anger. They come in all hues — 2G spectrum, Commonwealth Games, Indian Premier League.

So when an agitation against corruption breaks out on Facebook, and all those on Twitter support it wholeheartedly, they join the anti-corruption brigade. Most importantly, when the Government bungles not once, twice, but again and again, what do you expect? Yes, the middle class will rise in unison to support the cause, even though it may be a downright implausible one.

So may be it's not about the Lokpal Bill or even about Anna Hazare. It's probably all that pent-up middle class angst against the system at large.

Published on August 23, 2011

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