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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

If the middle class is not going to vote in droves, its ‘values’ will have no traction in the political market place

SMS to EVM Indian Express: Home > Edits & Columns > Wednesday, July 25, 2007 Ask not what politics does for the middle class. Ask what the middle class does for politics
President Abdul Kalam demitted office as a head of state who caught imagination across classes, as our columnist argues today. It would be wrong to argue, like many politicians did during the presidential elections, that only the ‘SMS class’ rooted for him. It is nonetheless true that the SMS class, aka the middle class, did find in Kalam attributes that were in sync with their own. Just as they did in the case of a few public figures who were and are active politicians. Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee come to mind. So does Manmohan Singh, with the caveat that the prime minister sadly has chosen not to electorally test the appeal of his kind of politics. A few more names can be added to this list, but it will still remain a short one. The middle class often despairs, rightly, why such a list should be so short. But let’s turn the question around, paraphrasing another popular president from another country: ask not what politics does for the middle class, ask what the middle class does for politics.
The answer is not flattering. Middle class involvement with politics is typically restricted to expressions of admiration for leaders in that very short list. This engagement through iconic figures is pleasant. It is important but, given the demands of democratic political praxis, it is ultimately insubstantial. That is why politicians who don’t appeal to the middle class can snigger about middle class preferences. As professionals they know what is said through SMS won’t be said through EVMs. If the middle class is not going to vote in droves, its ‘values’ will have no traction in the political market place — that’s the brute reality.
  • What is the point of moaning about degeneration in politics when disengagement is the reflexive response?
  • Why celebrate the accidents in politics that produce middle-class icons once in a while and remain complainingly quiescent the rest of the time?

The middle class, which chatters, thinks, reads (including editorials like this one) and is the most inspirational example of India’s ongoing economic reforms, must intellectually come to terms with an economic principle in politics: if there’s no demand, there’s no supply.

So the only way the middle class can demand the kind of politics it wants is by making politicians understand that there’s a critical mass of voters who want something different. If you only reach for your cell phone every time you want to express your views, you will never make politicians understand why you will miss Kalam. editor@expressindia.com

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