Keep­ing the Faith, But…

The TNS-ET Mood of the Mid­dle Class sur­vey shows that In­dia is still will­ing to bet on the Modi horse

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Urmi A Goswami

Achhe din may not be here yet, but the mid­dle class still be­lieves that Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi is still the man who can get them there.

In 2014, Modi made his­tory lead­ing the BJP to a sin­gle-party ma­jor­ity in the general elec­tions, the first time in 30 years. He rode in on the crest of huge ex­pec­ta­tions.

Meet­ing the In­dian elec­torate’s high ex­pec­ta­tions is well-nigh im­pos­si­ble. Not merely be­cause of the sheer range of de­mo­graph­ics, but also be­cause the changes nec­es­sary to make good on this prom­ise are com­plex and dif­fi­cult. Two years on, go­ing by the TNS-ET Mood of the Mid­dle Class sur­vey, the usu­ally im­pa­tient In­dian mid­dle class is still bet­ting on the same horse.

The na­tion­wide poll re­veals that the ur­ban pop­u­la­tion, aged 24-50 years, with an an­nual in­come rang­ing from .₹ 3 lakh to .₹ 20 lakh is keep­ing the faith in the Modi ad­min­is­tra­tion — even as they may be less rosyeyed now than when the gov­ern­ment was still fresh in of­fice and ‘ca­pa­ble of mir­a­cles’.

It would be in­cor­rect to say that the mid­dle class is pin­ning its hope on Modi sim­ply be­cause there is no vi­able can­di­date from the op­po­si­tion to take his place. A large ma­jor­ity polled sees the Congress hold­ing back the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­for- ts to ac­tu­alise on its prom­ise of growth, jobs and a bet­ter life. But it is also send­ing out the mes­sage loud and clear: Prime Min­is­ter Modi needs to do more.

More than serv­ing as a com­fort, the poll be a wake-up call to Modi Sarkar. Yes, the mid­dle class still be­lieves that Modi is their man. But it has cal­i­brated its ex­u­ber­ance to the slow pace of change. This sec­tion is re­ward­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion with its faith be­cause it sees hon­est ef­forts to make a ma­te­rial dif­fer­ence to their lives by en­gag­ing on is­sues that mat­ter to them, and what it sees as an ab­sence of cor­rup­tion.

Money Doesn’t Live Long

But the re­al­ity of the slow pace of change has the danger of erod­ing this faith. Yes, in­fla­tion has been re­stricted to a sin­gle digit. But the money doesn’t stretch much far­ther than be­fore: food prices are still high, as is the cost of rent­ing. The salaried class feels the pinch on ac­count of lower in­ter­est rates on sav­ings, as is ev­i­dent in their per­cep­tion about Bud­get 2016. Noth­ing hurts like thin­ning pocket books.

The PM’s big ideas, such as Start Up In­dia, Make in In­dia and Dig­i­tal In­dia, are yet to show mo­men­tum and re­sults in the same way as the 1991 re­form suc­ceeded in creat­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for a bur­geon­ing mid­dle class. Make in In­dia and Dig­i­tal In­dia, the two job- and wealth-creat­ing schemes, have been slow on the up­take. The mid­dle class has had lit­tle to be over­whelm­ingly ex­cited about the ef­forts.

Yes, the pos­si­bil­i­ties of dra­matic change and the un­leash­ing of op­por­tu­ni­ties were eas­ier as In­dia moved from a closed to a lib­er­alised econ­omy. It is tougher to have the same dra­matic im­pact now, es­pe­cially gi- ven the state of the global econ­omy. But tell that to the man who earns .₹ 25,000 a month, with two chil­dren in pri­vate school. How long be­fore he moves from the ‘sat­is­fied’ to ‘some­what dis­sat­is­fied’ col­umn if things don’t im­prove for him?

On Au­gust 15, 2014, when the PM spoke of clean­li­ness from the ram­parts of the Red Fort, he ad­dressed the un­spo­ken com­plaint of the many In­di­ans. The Swachh Bharat cam­paign, which sought to turn clean­li­ness into a na­tional mis­sion, gave voice to the hope of many that they, too, would one day soon live in a coun­try that was clean like Sin­ga­pore, or Europe — a de­vel­oped coun­try.

For the ur­ban mid­dle class, Swachh Bharat is not about toi­lets but about clean streets and parks, the garbage be­ing cleared on time, clean air and wa­ter. The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s con­tin­ued en­gage­ment on these is­sues is ev­i­dent in the over­whelm­ing en­dorse­ment for Swachh Bharat. But ef­forts have to be stepped up. It is dif­fi­cult to be hope­ful when it is to- ugh to breathe.

The con­tro­ver­sies that have dot­ted the two years bother the mid­dle class — not be­cause it is con­cerned with the sum and sub­stance of these con­tro­ver­sies but be­cause they see these to be dis­trac­tions from the ‘real busi­ness’ of creat­ing jobs and im­prov­ing lives.

A Bet­ter To­mor­row

The mid­dle class is be­ing pa­tient. For them, the prom­ise of a bet­ter to­mor­row for them­selves and their chil­dren is cru­cial. And they still be­lieve that the Modi ad­min­is­tra­tion is work­ing to cre­ate jobs and wealth for them, and that the fu­ture will be brighter. Such faith should spur the ad­min­is­tra­tion into ac­tion.

It should push the ad­min­is­tra­tion to take ac­tion against big-ticket of­fend­ers and those who seek to cor­ner the prom­ise of ‘achhe din’ for a few. Modi and his gov­ern­ment have nearly three years to show that the mid­dle class was not wrong to vote them in to gov­ern­ment, and not wrong to still keep the faith.

Snap­shot of a na­tion

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