Modi’s convenient classifications
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Attempts by BJP leaders to project Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a cut above his contemporaries in the party are likely to gain strength as part of a strategy to keep party cadres in the state motivated during the Assembly election campaign.
At the same time, there is no denying that Modi has emerged as a popular leader in the minds of aspirational, apolitical Indians and a contentious figure for those with a political bent of mind.
The BJP's ' Sankalp Patra' or manifesto in Gujarat has clues that reveal why Modi remains a divisive figure. The manifesto was conspicuous for the absence of the words 'minority' or 'minorities', commonly found in such documents of most political parties, including the BJP at the national level.
Secondly, the manifesto introduced a new term to the country's political lexicon: 'neo middle-class'. This neo middle-class is yet to be clearly defined by the party for its welfare schemes. It appears to have been coined to project Modi's vision as one that goes beyond narrow social groups as opposed to the identity politics mastered by the likes of Nitish Kumar and Mayawati, both of who are Modi's contemporaries with no less heft in national politics.
However, the fine print of Modi's Sankalp Patra talks about special concessions and packages for landless people of extremely backward castes among the scheduled castes. The manifesto also seeks to appease the "backward classes" and "tribal" people.
The absence of any reference to minority communities, in this context, reflects very poorly on Modi's national aspirations. The clever reference to "6 crore Gujaratis" is supposed to include minorities as well. But then, these 6 crore Gujaratis also include the Scheduled Castes, tribals and backward classes.
India's sustained economic growth over the last decade or so has meant that a neo middle-class has emerged across the country and not just Gujarat. This neo middle-class, fortunately, is not just looking for welfare measures to ensure that it does not slip back to being underprivileged but is also looking for 'social harmony', another term missing from Modi's Sankalp Patra .