Middle class: vote and revolt

Many have been surprised by the UPA 2 government's slow response to the events which unfolded subsequent to the rape of the 23-year-old student in Delhi. There were at least three major political mishaps along the way. First, the government just did not anticipate the concerted anger and reaction to the rape (and now murder) of the student. Second, perhaps because of this lack of anticipation, but more likely because of a lack of comprehension, the government reacted in a ham-handed manner. Third, after the fact, the government and the political leadership (read Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi) could have offered an apology for their lack of sensitivity and understanding of the issues involved. This also did not happen.

So what is going on? How can experienced and ostensibly savvy political leaders misread the political dimension of what is happening? I believe there is an explanation, and one consistent with other political anomalies over the last several years. Essential to this view is the belief that the Congress leadership (hereafter Sonia Gandhi, unquestioned political leader of the Congress party) completely misread the 2004 and 2009 election mandates. This misreading has led it to formulate wrong and inappropriate social welfare policies (like NREGA and the food security bill).

Sonia Gandhi has been at the forefront of portraying the image that she, like her mother-in-law, was the champion of the poor. Her belief has been that India is dominantly a poor country, and it is the poor who are maximum in number and therefore need to be "bought". Note that there are two dimensions to the concerns about the poor. First, every society, and all political and economic leaders, must enact policies to efficiently, and with the least corruption, eliminate poverty. Whenever poverty is eliminated, according to a given absolute poverty line, the mandate moves on to improvement and opportunities for the relative poor. These relative poor exist in every society (even in Sweden) and at all times (even in 2100).

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