Achhe din for whom?

Pinaki Bhattacharya | Updated on: Jan 20, 2018

BL10_THINK2_DC | Photo Credit: K_K_Mustafah

Not really for the urban middle class, it seems

When the global financial and economic decline of 2008 washed ashore in India, it was 2012. With the general elections just a couple of years away, Narendra Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat, was limbering up to become the prime ministerial candidate for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Modi’s ‘stump speech’, the Americans’ way of describing the basic tenor of a candidate’s campaign speeches, became “ achhe din aane waale hain ” (the good days will come soon).

Though there is very little data on whether the people of this country actually believed that bit, the results of the May 2014 certainly pointed in that direction.

Middle class angst

Now , we have before us a growth figure of 7.6 per cent for 2015-16, or at least that is what the Central Statistical Organisation would have us believe. Considering that 7 per cent economic growth is the ‘new normal’ of the Indian economy, this was not bad at all. But was it achhe din ?

Finance minister Arun Jaitley said the growth rate was healthy because of two essential factors; ‘higher public investment’ and ‘targeted welfare buck reaching the general populace’.

The contrary story, however, is stark. The middle classes are still aggrieved.

This public investment-led growth has accrued to the people whose man-days have been garnered mostly in the rural areas through MGNREGA. And it has bypassed the campuses of the IITs and IIMs — the mood barometers of the middle class.

In other words, the biggest story that is trending in the ‘social media’ today is how Flipkart’s valuation has been declining rather sharply and how the company has put on hold its recruitment plans.

Since the main driver of the Indian ‘market’ economy is the middle class, their dissatisfaction could disrupt the atmospherics on which the BJP has thrived.

But curiously, not one research institution in this country has yet gone down the village roads and checked with the local bania to see whether Jaitley’s narrative is correct. So has the RSS-BJP combine really gone the Swadeshi Jagran Manch way? Modi had very early in his campaign sent a subtle message to the masses that he wished to create a ‘clientielist’ relationship through by his acche din .

Limits to clientielism

But for how long can this politics survive? Is Raghuram Rajan, the governor of the Reserve Bank, to be sacrificed at the altar of a 250-million section of the population in a country of 1.3 billion people? Half the population lives on agriculture and survives in the red cloth-bound books of the local bania .

The Congress party-led UPA did get the story right earlier than the RSS or the BJP. But they spawned such a culture of ‘smash and grab’ that they lost the plot.However, there are limits to clientielism. Again one has to hark back to the history of the 131-year-old party’s play book.

Invariably, when you make people too dependent on the survival of the state, the latter begins to feel omnipotent. And that (Marx would say) is the cornerstone of ‘feudalism.’ The backwards and the dalits will rise against that phenomenon.

Is Modi ready to do a Vishwanath Pratap Singh? The Uttar Pradesh election and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s early stirrings are telling us a story.

The writer is a senior journalist

Published on June 09, 2016
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