The longest election in the history of India will be held from April 7th to May 12th. Voting will be held in 9 phases taking place in all 543 parliamentary constituencies, to elect members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha.
This year it will be different. There is a new emerging group that will have a significant influence on the outcome. That group is the growing middle class. Not too long ago its presence was relatively insignificant, but now it is a force. To define the middle class, let's initially look at a purely economic criterion. Anybody that belongs to a household that has a monthly income of Rs 20,000 to Rs 100,000 is considered middle-class. Looking back a short while ago, they consisted of 25 million, today it is 160 million and guesstimated numbers for 2015 are expected to rise above 270 million. Now all of us know what constitutes the middle class; they are above the poverty line and not quite in the category of the rich.
India achieved independence from Great Britain on August 15, 1947. India has the second largest population in the world, today estimated at approximately 1.3 Billion people. India, for generations, had been a caste system. You were born onto your future lifestyle. A son of a peasant was tied to his field until death. Yet the Noble family cannot be traders of craftsmen. They maintained their status and wealth for a lifetime. In order to allow expansion of the middle class, the caste system of today is only seriously involved when believers attempt to stop inter-marriage, or the mixing of major religions, (Hindu and Muslim). Doctors, other professionals and business owners, no matter if their fathers were poor, can gain wealth thru their skills. Many poor children, via education, can also attain a status much more superior than their father's lot in life.
The rapidly growing middle class is pan-Indian in scale, has a commonality of interest, are well educated and have similar aspirations. Here is the problem: They are rudder-less because they don't have a leader representing their economic class. There are political spokespeople who talk for the current government or competing parties, but the diverse middle class needs someone to follow who cares for their plight.
Here are the two main reasons for the rapid emergence of the booming middle class. The first is the widespread use of mobile phones. The instant connectivity creates a practically instantaneous awareness of newsworthy items and the convenience to spread the word. The second is the dramatic growth in India of Social Media. It is cohabiting with the 24/7 news cycle and in constant conversation with friends, family, and famous people who are also tweeting, texting, facebooking, etc. The middle class is not only more aware of outrageous human rights violations such as the Jessica Lal case, and the Nirbhaya case, but they are actively getting involved to express their outrage with candle-light vigils, holding protest marches and other public displays of anger risking being beaten or arrested.
The future political influence of the emerging middle class will be given a dramatic boost as soon as a pan-Indian leader emerges who will then concentrate on more than the current issues only pertaining to their own world. Their leader must, and I think will, develop an equitable and comprehensive different vision for India that will force the leading class to rethink strategies on governance, populism, false promises, corruption, social divisiveness and electoral illegalities.
The contest will not be between the middle class vs. the rest. It will only be a matter of degree. The middle class include the doctors, the teachers, middle-level managers and other supervisory personnel. Their households have roughly about one third of their income left over after paying for food and shelter.
These upcoming elections will be fascinating for the world to observe. I recall that when the global economy went into a tailspin during the Great Recession in 2007-08, Americans and people in Europe were wondering if anything can be done by the middle classes in India and in Asia to help alleviate the financial problems and help rescue the world's economy. I know I will be watching the Election results.
In my next blog, I plan on covering the state of India's economy and the recovery of the rupee.
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