Rahul Gandhi’s anointment as the vice-president of the Congress party at the conclave in Jaipur was, for all practical purposes, an event waiting to happen. The pomp and celebration accompanying his elevation, however, has masked far more significant pronouncements made there.
For starters, the Congress president Sonia Gandhi asked her partymen to ensure that India’s middle class does not get alienated from the political process. She also made it a point to highlight the importance of women’s issues at the conclave.
Had these remarks been made even two years ago—say at the party’s session at Burari near Delhi in 2010—they could have been dismissed as a rhetorical flourish.
In 2010, the Congress—especially through the United Progressive Alliance government and the National Advisory Council, virtually a super-cabinet then—was at the height of its confidence. After all, it had virtually “rigged” the policy space in favour of rural India.
This orientation had won it a victory in 2009 and “policy engineering” in favour of rural India was expected to yield it a handsome electoral dividend in 2014. The intervening two years, however, have changed India’s political landscape dramatically.
For one, economic growth—taken for granted since 2004—has turned anaemic. With that jobs, of the kind the middle class longs for, have become scarce to the point that even existing ones are in danger now. That is not all: a series of events—from the so-called civil society movements against corruption to the gang rape in New Delhi have heightened the middle class’s awareness of its political strength. That is not all. The number of urban voters, too, has gone up significantly in the past two decades.
Much of this has to do with the breakneck pace at which India is urbanizing. When clubbed with the so-called census towns, urban India is now a potent political bloc.
In classical Marxist theory, the conflict between the town and countryside is viewed as the result of a parasitical political economy. The vitality of the village is drained by exploitative exchange relations with the town. It is not surprising that the bulk of the great socialist revolutions in the 20th century had agrarian origins. In India of the 21st century, the situation is a neat obverse: the Union government has skewed policies in favour of the countryside so dramatically that an urban revolution of sorts is at hand.
The Congress, and most importantly its party president, realize what has occurred. The question is can the party arrest the danger to its electoral prospects in just a year? It will be interesting to observe the moves the party makes in the coming months.
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