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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 18, New Delhi, April 23, 2016

Leveraging on Societal Insecurities and Politics of Crises in India

Monday 25 April 2016

by Santosh K. Patra and Sumana Khan

The definition of “Democracy” in India today is obfuscating. The kind of political scenario that India has been housing, especially since the last two-three decades, is forcing the public to make myriads of conjectures about the politics of India. Be it the post-liberalisation phase beginning 1991 or 2011-2012 when the then ruling party of the republic was seen battling with internal crisis and issues of varied forms of corruptions or the subsequent upsurge of the India Against Corruption (INC) movement by a heavy cluster of people; India has been facing a constant hammering on the construing of the word “Democracy”

Tracing back to 1991 and the period thereafter, on the one hand we have witnessed a kind of triumph that India rejoiced in with the hope of matching with the global economy and becoming a superpower in the global arena; and on the other hand, we have also seen the trials and tribulations on India’s socio-economic-political developments and the emergence of the notion of ‘new India’ across all socio-economic classes. Hence, it would certainly not be a mistake if we say that antecedents of politics in India, besides highlighting the stark realities of India today, also point as to how the happenings have resulted in a new wave politics primarily based on the sentiments of societal insecurities and politics of crises.

On the basis of government reports, we can easily claim that the new economic policies have not only brought infrastructural growth across the country resulting in socio-economic development etc., but the policies have also eventually helped in uplifting people from the vicious circle of poverty fetching a noticeable decrease in the Below Poverty Line (BPL) population. However, strangely, with these tall claims of the government post-1991, the Indian Government at the Centre and the governments in the States as well could never become politically stable. Pondering over the three- decade story of Indian politics since 1991 till date, we see that the development fiasco rather than building hopes, have contributed to all kinds of hopelessness for the utopian “New India”.

The question is: who is the culprit behind this, the BJP or Indian National Congress (INC)? No, we cannot blame any particular political party in general because both the INC and BJP have had their share of power in these 20 years of the development drama. From Narasimha Rao to Narendra Modi, we have had all sorts of power politics in our country. This is certainly not to condone the fact that the Congress of course has a bigger share of being in power than its counter-part, the BJP. However, what is more interesting is to note the trend that even though we are all aware that each and every political party in India is exhibiting the problems of having anti-people syndrome, dynastic politics, major corruption cases and, above all, visionless leaders, but 2004 onwards the INC was exposed the most. Adding to these exposures were the Modi-wave and movements like Indian Against Corruption.

Before delving deeper into the subject, it is pertinent to closely look at the kind of share that the BJP gauged during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the emergent phenomena in the name of alternative politics. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won the Delhi Assembly elections in early 2015. While in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP emerged as a winner with 283 seats, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi won a whopping 67 of 70 seats. However, these results are nothing but an example of how to leverage on the politics of crises and social insecurities that India was facing since the last three decades. The insecurities of the common man were mounting and these parties did nothing but created the much-needed pressure by pin-pointing the issues which the average citizen was facing and made them aware of these from within; and, as they say, when the spiral of silence explodes, it is easy to mobilise the public to break all the shackles. Now, to briefly highlight as to what worked for the BJP and AAP and what didn’t work for the INC let us list the points mentioned below.

What went against the then Ruling Party, the INC?

• Sustained frustration over a long-lasting ineffective governance;
• frustration over the enhanced cases of visible corruption;
• dynastic politics in the name of Gandhi began to be hated by young educated Indians; and
• continuous focus on populist policies and programmes.

What worked for others?

• Everybody loves an underdog branding effect (be it an aam admi Arvind Kejriwal or a chaiwala Narendra Modi);
• the so-called Gujarat “model of development”;
• systematic and consistent communication campaign of Modi since the last five years;
• make the public hear what they wanted to hear;
• an alternative leader option which looked promising at the time of such crises;
• instant developments and promises of trans-formations;
• quick face-change promises.

In the context of new the political development, winning on the politics of crises by leveraging on societal insecurities, the analyses of Narendra Modi’s victory at the Centre and Arvind Kejriwal’s victory in Delhi need to be done minutely by focussing on the following

• The Myths;
• The Reality;
• The Societal Insecurity; and
• Politics of Crises.


FIRST of all, the failure of governance or existence of no governance before the BJP and AAP; nonetheless, “minimum government and maximum governance” has still not happened with the BJP-led NDA Government completing a year and the AAP Government completing their first 100 days. Clearly, if not anything else, it does imply that the governance structure remains the same. Be it the controversies surrounding the Central Govern-ment in the last 365 days or the AAP Government’s failure in keeping the party’s internal governance intact etc., one thing is sure: there is no internal governance to efficiently allocate the power-centres for governing the country’s governance system. If we think that dynastic politics has been replaced by individual politics both at the Centre and in a State like Delhi, what’s coming on our plate other than verbal consolations in the name of promises and superficial schemes?

The second and the biggest myth is politics and development for the poor or lesser-privileged. If the schemes and programmes are to be believed in, then no garib would have ever existed after Indira Gandhi’s garibi hatao yojana, no one even in the remotest of villages would have remained unemployed after the NREGA, no malnutrition would have come to the sunface after anganwadis and mid-day meal scheme, no one would have remained homeless after aawas yojanas, no villages would have remained cut-off after the golden quadrilaterals and India would not be in need of make-in-India and Swachh Bharat after the much hyped Bharat Nirman Yojana. The lists of schemes are endless since time immemorial. But what is strange is that despite the hapless results of all the schemes, we are still getting schemes in the name of financial inclusion and insurance of social security etc. without any appropriate governance in place. The 365-day record of the present Central Government evidently shows the negligence of the government towards the sectors deserving maximum attention in India: agriculture or education. Instead, we have got the infamous and much-criticised Land Acquisition Bill and innumerable corporate deals to support the idea of “Make in India”. Individually, each of these programmes talks about the failure of each and every promise made by the BJP Government since the last four years in the name of alternative politics.

The third myth is the claim and belief that now we have a very educated middle class, who are politically sensitive, to go for alternative politics. Both the success of “India Against Corruption” and “the rise of Narendra Modi” are credited to the educated Indian middle class and social media. Though this is quite true, but the fact is that neither is our so-called educated middle class politically sensitive nor are they looking for any alternative politics. This is a campaign created by both the success stories of the BJP and AAP. The credit definitely goes to their communication teams or hired agencies but the stark truth is that our so-called middle class comprises a bunch of opportunists. When we say opportunist ‘middle class’, this means that they are all for addressing their own insecurities by withholding what they have earned over a period of time in terms of economic benefits. The major insecurity is that their earned economic gains can be overtaken by others; so there is a need to protect those in the name of development denominated as urban infrastructure or job creation in the name of generating more labourers etc. And the Gujarat model of development is the most appropriate example of the same.

A further simple example can make it more clear; this relates to the issue of net-neutrality and the drama over one million e-mails sent to the TRAI. Our question to all these so-called middle class persons is: “when you have opted for global capitalism, when we say everything comes with a price, be it in the context of reservation in India, land acquisition and FDI etc., then what’s the problem in accepting that the time has come to pay the price even for using a simple internet site?” This is precisely the kind societal insecurities that are being leveraged by the major political party in the name of the awakened middle class of India.

The fourth myth is the whole idea of Make in India and the trickle-down impact of development so that our underprivileged class can rise and blossom. This is one of the most rotten ideas ever, as we have seen in the past in the context of mining. As they say, bring in the MNCs and displace all the tribes by bartering them with all modern amenities in their own rehabilitated land. In the name of Development, this is leading to nothing but sheer destruction of the socio-cultural fabric of those tribes. Making me eat with knife and fork instead of hand wouldn’t make me developed and empowered. We are not against the idea of Make in India but the question is: “Are we ready for this?” Who are the people all these Make in India companies are going to employ and in which position? Are we trained or educated enough to work for them at this point of time?

The fifth and final myth is the ‘underdog branding’ of both Modi and Kejriwal. When we see a chaiwala and a “mango” man who was sleeping on a railway station platform becoming our leaders, it does give us contentment. However, this is one of the widely-used strategies in marketing and the new-age politics of India today has adopted a successful marketing campaign to market both the leaders. All these so-called middle class members today and to a certain extent the lower class or lesser privileged ones try to link themselves with both these men and imitate them in every possible way to take pride from their individual self.


THE three major realities are:
• India is not a country of middle class.
• Secondly, though we have the highest number of young population but certainly we are not the country of skilled and employable youth because of the failure of the education system.
• Since the last many years, all political parties are systematically contributing for the develop-ment of the one percentage of the super-rich population rather than thinking about the 80 percentage of lesser privileged population of India. If we are emphasising so much on the trickle-down effect, it must have trickled down much before the May 2014 elections.

First of all, the much talked of “middle class of India today” is the middle class that we have been talking about since a long time. How are they middle class and, most importantly, they are in the middle of what and what are the percentages of people below and above them? By using common sense alone, one can sense that the middle class should represent the majority of the population in India like any other developed country in the world. They must be around 50 per cent of the population and not a part of below and above 25 per cent of the population at any point of time. Is this true in the context of India? Of course, our data shows that we have approximately 25 per cent of people living Below Poverty Line and around 25 per cent of the population belongs to the higher-class groups which include both the rural and urban communities of India. We believe that this is one of the most opportunistic ways of explaining the phenomena of ‘middle class’ in India. Let’s go by some of the facts coming from the Census of India and some other studies. First of all, going by the Census of India data,

What India Owns:

Bicycles: 44.8 per cent, Car/jeep/van: 4.7 per cent
Computer/laptop: 9.5 per cent
Computer/laptop with internet: 3.1 per cent
Computer/laptop without internet: 6.3 per cent
Radio/transistor: 19.9 per cent
Scooter/motorcycle/ moped: 21 per cent
Telephone/mobile phone: 63.2 per cent
Both telephone and mobile phone: 6 per cent
Landline only: 4 per cent, Mobile only: 53.2 per cent
TV: 47.2 per cent
TV, computer/laptop, telephone/mobile phone, scooter/car: 4.6 per cent
None of the specified assets available: 17.8 per cent

[Source: Daily Mail]

“Twenty years hence, the 2011 Census shows that only 4.6 per cent of India’s population has ownership of all four assets—television, computer/laptop, scooter/car and telephone/ mobile phone. While the limiting asset is computer with only 9.5 per cent ownership, 21 per cent owns a scooter and 63 per cent owns a phone. And while roughly 30 per cent of India’s population lives below the poverty line, 17.8 per cent owns none of the specified assets in the census chart. Then, which is the rising middle-class, and which of these middle classes do Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi refer to in their promises of the future? -Daily Mail, May 19, 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2327182/The-myth-great-Indian-Middle-class-Roughly-30-Indias-population-lives-poverty-line.html”

At any given point any middle class at any part of the world should have at least these four assets and if we consider them as the Indian middle class, they are only 4.6 per cent of the total population. We can also verify the same in terms of education and the Indian middle class.

The second reality is the highest number of young population in India, which is true. But have we checked that are our youth are employable and if yes, are we going to be another nation with a maximum number of cheap labourers? If our foremost priority in India is not the educational and skill-based development, our youth are going to be a part of the Make in India as cheap labourers. As per the study “Intergenerational and Regional Differentials in Higher Education in India”, authored by the development economist, Abusaleh Shariff, and Amit Sharma, research analyst of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, “Access to education beyond higher secondary schooling is a mere 10 per cent among the university-age population in India. (The Times of India, January 5, 2014, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/Only-10-of-students-have-access-to-higher-education-in-country/articleshow/28420175.cms”

Thirdly, the entire idea of trickle-down which has given the logic to our ruling political party for a corporate-friendly environment and thinking about development only in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) and rate of growth, is a sheer lie. If this is the only way of ensuring development, this must have happened 20 years ago than now. How much has trickled down since the last fifteen years when the wealth of the super-rich was exponentially growing in India, along with the Gujarat Model of Development? As per the Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Databook 2014, and as reported in The Hindu December 8, 2014:

“The difference in the wealth share held by India’s poorest 10 per cent and the richest 10 per cent is enormous; India’s richest 10 per cent holds 370 times the share of wealth that its poorest hold. India’s richest 10 per cent have been getting steadily richer since 2000, and now hold nearly three-quarters of the total wealth. India’s one per cent– its super-rich – have been getting richer even faster. In the early 2000s, India’s top one per cent held a lower share of India’s total wealth than the world’s top one per cent held of its total wealth. That changed just before and after the global recession—though the world’s super-rich are recovering—and India’s top one per cent holds close to half of the country’s total wealth. (http://www.thehindu.com/data/indias-staggering-wealth-gap-in-five-charts/article6672115.ece)

If our economists are so optimistic now about the trickle-down approach, we would be more curious to understand what didn’t work since the last fifteen years. For us, we think the trickle-down would only work when sectors like education, health, social equity etc. would be at par with the growth-oriented agenda of development or else this might take us another 15 years to experiment on the trickle-down model of development.

Societal Insecurity

BY societal insecurity we mean to understand what kind of uncertainties we are going through as people of India today. This insecurity is cut across all the levels at the hierarchy. At the top (super-rich), the insecurity is growing in the same speed for accumulation of more wealth; for the middle-class, there is insecurity about becoming self-centric on their own possessions be it knowledge and skill or economic gains or procuring a job security or having a favourable environment for the growth and development of the next generation etc.; and for the ones at the bottom of the pyramid (that is, more than 80 per cent of India’s population), the insecurity is of existence and hope to come out of the vulnerability. All these insecurities are generating the opportunity for our political class to ignite hope at all levels with the help of specific myths over the reality and gaining the instant and strategic popularity which essentially talks about the politics of crises in India today.

Politics of Crises

THE term “politics of crises” here refers to the two major incidences of the recent past which have been used in both the cases of the BJP and AAP to register political victory, the first one being the phenomenal victory of Narendra Modi in the 2014 general elections, which created hopes at all levels as the leader was trusted to be capable of drastically changing India’s journey of develop-ment. Nobody at that time considered even the do-ability of all those promises made across all platforms. It was all about hope and hope for every single citizen who shouted in chorus: “Yes, we can change the country.” The same thing got repeated and ensured the exponential growth of the AAP and their landslide victory in the Delhi elections. The Delhi elections also banked on the promises made by the populist leader, Arvind Kejriwal, who assured of working towards providing “effective governance” above all. In either of the cases the crises of people across all strata were so well packaged and presented that there was no room to think beyond the leaders. The crises of people, which systematically envelop the hopelessness and helplessness of people, were basically presented as crises of democracy and the hunger for bringing in alternative politics.


SOME of the key issues to flag on in the context of myth, reality, societal insecurity and politics of crises are: the people of India are frustrated over ineffective governance and rightly so since the last sixty years and it continues after 365 days of the Modi Government and 100 days of the Kejriwal Government; corruption hits hard to most of the people of India and it still continues to do so; dynastic politics is not acceptable to anyone anymore and so is the individualistic politics of one man’s vision of development; there always was a lack of inclusive politics and development and it continues being so; there is a need to unpack all the promoted models of development, be it the Gujarat one or anywhere else; underdog branding has always worked in the past and again it worked in India and finally, we must submit that there is nothing wrong with this branding provided the underdogs rise, awake and do not become a part of the same saga of failed development. We have all waited for the last sixty years and are still waiting since the last 365 days and 100 days to look forward to a real and not the fetish of a “minimum government and maximum governance” fad.

Santosh K. Patra is a Faculty (Assistant Professor) at MICA, Ahmedabad. He holds a Ph.D from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, in the area of Media Sociology. Dr Patra’s research and teaching interests include media and society, new media and changing trends of communication, media agenda-setting and social media and strategic communication. He has contributed in the areas of Media, Development and Society, Governance and Public Policy, ICT and Development Communication. He can be reached at santosh[at]micamail.in

Sumana Khan is a communication professional who has served corporates including a Navratna CPSE as a Corporate Communication official and by qualification, she holds a Master’s Degree in Mass Communication from the Banaras Hindu University. She can be reached at sumanakhan1402[at]gmail.com