Middle Class Angst

The aftermath of the Mumbai terror strikes has led to public outcry against the government (‘State’) in general and politicians (‘Leaders’) in particular. The massive outpouring of anger witnessed on the streets of Mumbai and across the country is testimony to the contempt that politicians have earned over so many years—of misgovernment and corruption. It is therefore not surprising at all to see the brickbats directed at politicians. It is time for correction and change. It is also time for leaders to deliver, to be accountable as public servants. People want security—to be safe in their homes and in their cities or towns. If our leaders do not perform, the masses will simply throw them out. People are today tired of corrupt politicians. There is a sense of urgency when people talk about change nowadays. In a way, the middle class is beginning to wake up and this is not good news for the ruling elite. One will notice that the recent outpouring in Mumbai seen over the last few days is led by the powerful middle class. But this is not conventional wisdom, which in essence is the problem with our political process, which is that, the poor votes while the middle class only derides governments when they fail to perform or when such tragedies befall us. As such, the middle class will also have to take part of the blame for being lethargic especially when it comes to voting. Simply put they have not been active participants in the political process. But if they want to correct the system or support worthy leaders, then they will have to change their attitude as well.  

Middle-class cynicism about the competence of the State is quite understandable. But if we want a government that reflects the aspiration of the people, then the middle class must come out of its known apathy at the time of election. If they want better governments, then they will have to remain active in the electoral process so that opportunistic politicians do not make mince meat of the uneducated, poor masses that make up the bulk of the voting public. Hopefully, the ‘terror crisis’ in Mumbai will awake middle-class voters out of their stupor. In Mumbai, the financial capital of India, it was therefore a welcome sign to see India’s urban middle class out on the street protesting and demanding accountability from the government. And the point to be noted is that politicians know that they cannot fool this section of the populace. Ever since this outpouring of anger, there is a sense of disquiet among politicians. A Union Home Minister has been forced to resign. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra and his Deputy has both being pressured out of their posts. The new Union Home Minister has publicly apologized to people of Mumbai. This is in effect the middle class bringing politicians to their knees. In fact, if people so desire to see real change in the political landscape of the country, then it is this middle class who will have to be the agents of qualitative change.