Friday 13 December 2013

A common man’s party (Pakistan Observer)

MD Nalapat
Friday, December 13, 2013 - India has the largest Middle Class in the world,which at 340 million is comparable to the population of the United States. However, since the Dawn of independence from the UK in 1947, this class has been less active politically than those higher and lower than them in economic status.The rich ensure that policies favourable to their immediate interests remain untouched,by giving vast amounts of money to politicians as well as to officials.The poor come out to vote in large numbers,although thus far,their primary achievement seems to have been to make many politicians who came from poor families super rich.

Whether it be Sonia Gandhi or Mulayam Singh Yadav - or,indeed,the entire political class barring the Left parties and outliers such as Defense Minister A K Antony or Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi - all have ensured that they and their friends and relatives climb from poverty to plenty within a generation.Where once the bicycle was the only available means of transport,these days the preferred mode is by BMWs and Audis. Where once even a train ticket was too expensive unless in the lowest class,these days the use of chartered aircraft is ubiquitousare. Of course,during the election season,the expensive clothes (although not shoes or watches) are packed away,and an effort is made to seem ordinary. Those bi-monthly shopping visits to London get postponed till after the votes get polled. Estate agents in London say that during past year,there has been a substantial increase in the number of Indians purchasing flats and houses in that metropolis and its environs,perhaps as a place of refuge should political rivals come to power

The growth of the Middle Class became pronounced during the period after 1992,the year when a nondescript and hugely underrrated Prime Minister, Pamulaparthy Vekkata Narasimha Rao,took over as an accidental PM and began a process of economic liberalisation which ought to have been started in 1980,the year when Indira Gandhi was re-elected to power. Had her younger son Sanjay survived rather than perish in an air crash less than six months after the 1980 Congress victory in the Lok Sabha polls,India may have been a much more advanced economy than it is now. Sanjay Gandhi detested the socialism favoured by his grandfather and mother,and himself set up a private company to manufacture automobiles. In foreign policy,he was a critic of the Soviet Union,and ideologically much closer to Washington. It was fortunate for Moscow that Sanjay Gandhi was killed,as otherwise,relations with India may have ceased to be as close as they were since the 1960s,a situation which continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992.

A year earlier,India was the only country in the world to officially welcome the short-lived coup against Mikhail Gorbachev,something that soured relations between Delhi and Moscow not only when Gorbachev briefly returned to power but afterwards,when Boris Yeltsin took charge of the Russian Federation. Indeed,in 1980,there were reports that a mysterious hand had filed away the control wires of the small aircraft that Sanjay had been piloting the morning of his crash,so that after a few tugs on the control stick,the wires connecting that with the ailerons gave way and the aircraft came hurtling down. Details of the condition of the wires leading up to the control rod (or joystick) of the aircraft were never released.Sanjay Gandhi had many enemies in India ad outside,so it is difficult to identify those responsible for filing the control wires to a thread,if indeed that was the cause of death rather than an excess of exuberance in piloting the high-performance aerobatic aircraft

It may be mentioned that Sanjay Gandhi’s was not the only death of a senior Congress leader which took place in suspicious circumstances. Years later,a dynamic Congress leader,Madhavrao Scindia,met his end when his aircraft crashed some distance from its destination. For a brief while,there were reports about a faulty fuel gauge,that showed the fuel tanks to the full when in fact they were half empty. Some muttered that it was this alleged fuel gauge that was the cause of the crash,because the pilot was under the impression that he had plenty of fuel in the tanks,when in fact they had become empty just before he crashed. As details of this have not been made public,and it is anyway unlikely that the truth will ever emerge from the fog of official mishandling of evidence,we will never know the exact circumstances behind the death by an air crash of one of the most charismatic and competent of politicians in India, Madhavrao Scindia.

Indeed,there was another - and equally dynamic - Congress politician, Rajesh Pilot, who too met his end “accidentally”, this time in a road accident.While Scindia perished on 1 October 2001,Rajesh Pilot died a year earlier,on 11 June 2000,in a road accident with several unexplained factors,including why he was rushing back to Delhi (on whose summons?) and what happened to the driver of the bus that seemed almost to follow him around on the road until it crashed into his vehicle. Another unnatural death was that of Jitendra Prasada,a brilliant tactician from Uttar Pradesh,who died around the same time as Scindia,in 2001,apparently of a brain haemmorage. However,there was speculation as to why he was shifted from one hospital to another on that final night on 16 January,while there were reports that an early blood test had shown traces of botulin,which were absent in a second blood test at a different hospital,which gave him a thorough stomach wash even though it was supposed to be a brain haemmorage rather than food poisoning.

The passing away of Sanjay Gandhi changed the course of the Congress Party,delaying economic liberalisation for twelve more years,while the unnatural deaths of Pilot,Scindia and Prasada took away three stalwarts from the Congress Party,making it a much tamer and paler version of what it might have been had these three remained at the higher levels of the party

Under Manmohan Singh,who has proved a disaster in politics as much as in economic policy,the Middle Class has become alienated from the Congress Party. In Delhi, they have substantially gravitated towards the Aam Aadmi Party led by Arvind Kejriwal, an honest former bureaucrat. The shock success of the AAP in the just-concluded assembly elections in Delhi have shown the middle class that they can make a difference,if only they come out and vote. This is likely to ensure that the Middle Class finally come out to vote in large numbers,thereby ensuring victory for whatever party or leader they see as best for the nation.The awakening of the Middle Class will be the big story of the 2014 elections in India,and for this,Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party deserve a lot of the credit.

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