The Indian Middle Class' Disaffection with the Modi Government

Courtesy: Times of India

Yes, you read it right.

There is disaffection in the Indian middle class right now with the Narendra Modi government.

This is not about tier I wine sipping elite intellectuals.

This is about the great Indian middle class that has suffered immensely due to the COVID lockdown.

This is the great Indian middle class of tier II, tier III and tier IV, living across India, many of whose children were working in tier I cities but lost their jobs and came back to sit idle at home.

This is the great Indian middle class that forms a significant skilled migrant set that is increasingly getting  frustrated at the lack of job opportunities in the job market.

This is the great Indian middle class that pays taxes across all hues but does not count as a significant voter base any more for the BJP.

There is this sentiment among several well wishers turned haters that the BJP rose on the backs of the Indian middle class only to trample its spine and move forward to ensure that it wins elections all the time.

While the middle class is extremely pragmatic about its ability to influence elections, it sees itself being left out entirely from the process of democracy. If its vote does not count, why should it bother to vote in the first place?

It is easy to blame the middle class that is squeezed like a lemon to extract the maximum value, only to be given a thank you lollipop, as a friend of mine once said.

So, where has the story gone wrong in the last seven years? It was the very same middle class that rallied behind Narendra Modi twice - 2014 and 2019. Of course, the 2019 vote could be interpreted as another chance being given combined with a TINA factor. However, gathering from a swathe of people, it seems there are six big factors that really cause heartburn and anger.

1. GST system - a big chunk of msme sector's working capital in form of advance drains out as GST. With the NPA nightmare fresh in mind, they are more than reluctant to deal with banks. The grouse amongst the sector is that they pay tax even before they earn anything. Many would call that a fair complaint, given their margins.

2. Taxation on interest of EPFO, mutual fund earnings - a potential way of social security, upward mobility and aspirational living for a large section of the middle class, the tax reads like a polite 'screw you' message being delivered in their inbox. For many senior citizens and their elderly children, what they see with increasing lifespans is that they only have more expenses than ever. Not a scenario one wants to encounter.

3. Housing market fiasco -  let us be honest, India's affordable urban housing market is a mess. RERA has failed to solve the mess in many key urban centres. As a result, a very bad sentiment has been generated on affordable housing projects that are stuck forever. Also, loan refunds as ordered SC hardly got to anyone despite all the hoopla surrounding it. You pay the loan, you pay the tax, you pay through the nose, and all you get is a slip of paper thanking you is the new joke.

4. Being India's moral compass on COVID relief - the Indian middle class has been asked to carry the moral pressure of managing the homes of the poor like a yoke on its back. Fine, the middle class says, we will do that too. Can the government however tell us what exactly it has done for the middle class to help it in any way during this crisis? Most private sector got nothing. PF Benefits was for a very small section. In contrast, the government employees could use LTA for their expenses, sending an absolutely bad message - you are screwed through and through.

5. Health insurance in times of COVID - A cruel joke on the middle class indeed. People have been unable to get expenses covered under their health insurance policies despite orders of the IRDAI. Ways to not deal with it emerge among the insurance companies. With no effort to resolve bottlenecks especially when people are struggling to stay afloat and have lost jobs across the board, and there is a bad after taste in the mouth on this issue as well.

6. Job losses due to COVID and earlier - job market has been a challenge for the past few years, even before COVID. The pandemic has only worsened the problem. Effort to spur the economy have essentially led to a phase of growth that has not generated jobs in a commensurate manner. Automation threatens the lower pile further, especially those starting off with back end jobs of the kind the IT sector generated for long. As it is, IT and ITES is bursting on the seams, and manufacturing has been shedding its labour requirements for more than a decade. The net result is a frustrated population. As it is, education counts for nothing today, given the sheer unemployability of our graduates - no jobs just worsens it.

Are these problems solvable? Maybe, it depends on the political will. For now though, the middle class seems resigned to its fate, for now. The new sentiment emerging is this - if we have to die, why not die by jhatka (by electing Congress) instead of letting yourself bleed to a slow and painful halal death?

This is not exactly a very pleasant thought after all.


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