Book Review: Why Indian middle class supports Modi?

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Senior Journalist Nagesh Prabhu

The BJP Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has implemented a slew of programs during the last six years. While some programs immensely benefited to the people, particularly the middle class, others such as demonetization, GST, the Covid-19 induced lockdown to contain the global pandemic COVID-19 have hit them hard. Unmindful of hardships, Indian people, especially the middle classes, dutifully obliged to the Prime Minister’s appeal and come out on their balconies to clap for five minutes and lights off-candles on for nine minutes during the lockdown.

Why did the middle class families, who have evolved their own ecosystem around family, travelling, festivals, shopping at this time of the year support the ‘Janata Curfew’? What made them to stand in their balconies or homes to clap, ring bells, light lamps or candles to salute frontline health workers serving the nation tirelessly? Why have the urban middle-class, and upper castes who have always found comfort in social security and stability embraced Modi’s brand of Hinduta, fuelled by fierce nationalism? In short, what makes Modi a middle class hero?

The many questions pertaining to the phenomenon of Modi, who has captured the imagination and won popular mandate resoundingly in 2014 and 2019, and why Mr Modi has remained the unquestioned darling of the masses, particularly middle classes, has been answered in the new book, “Middle Class, Media and Modi: The Making of a New Electoral Politics (2020),” by senior journalist Dr Nagesh Prabhu, brought out by SAGE Publications India.

Middle Class, Media and Modi studies how the Indian middle class, once seen as politically indifferent, has gradually become a player of importance in collective action and in making new political demands. Curiously, with significant rise in the size of the middle class, many politicians have started to feel proud of their middle class moorings. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too always made public of his humble middle class background. On the other hand the Congress, despite claiming to be the ‘manufacturer’ of the middle class through its series of economic reforms during the 80s and the 90s, is not in sync with aspirations of the class. All these issues have been prominently discussed in the book.

BJP’s rise can be attributed to a combination of many factors, including the party’s Hindutva agenda, RSS support, organisational skills, a well-oiled electoral machinery, and more than all these, the massive support of middle class and contribution (both positive and negative) by the visual, print and social media.

Modi, who served as the CM of Gujarat for a record 14 years (2002-2014) has slowly become the icon of the changing economic demands of the middle class and their ideological rightward shift as exemplified in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and Mandal agitation as well as a wholehearted embracing of the idea of ‘less government and more governance’ and the promise of ‘acche din.’ Modi managed to tie these two strands in an unprecedented fashion and the media (both old and new) played a significant role in disseminating and cementing this. Modi’s management and dominance of mainstream and social media – consumers of which is the ever-growing middle class — played a key role in his emphatic victories in India’s 16th and 17th general elections. These two electoral outcomes have undoubtedly changed the way the India imagines itself and how the world beyond does.

After consolidating his position in the first term, Modi is implementing a long pending agenda of the party – abrogation of Article 370, implementing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, and construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya. After his second consecutive victory and bigger mandate, Modi is even stronger and everything now in his control. The Opposition, indeed, is in a state of disrepair. Politics apart, the Modi government has started identifying specific areas for focus in the economy to make India self-reliant to drive India’s development journey to become a global leader. The Rs 20 lakh crore economic package announced during the lockdown to boost the economy is seen from this perspective. The opportunity is ripe for now to use the available prowess for transforming the Indian economy and lift millions of people out of poverty. If he can pull this off, he would surely go down in history as one the strongest leaders the country has seen.

The excerpts are published by senior journalist Nagesh Prabhu from his new Book – Middle Class, Media and Modi: The Making of a New Electoral Politics (Sage Publications India)

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