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New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on 6 December, could not have captured the mood of the nation better, although ironically it would reflect on his own Congress party’s poor performance in state assembly elections two days later.

“Economic growth, social change and political empowerment have brought in their wake the new aspirations of an entirely new generation of Indians. This has contributed to growing impatience for faster growth and even better quality of life," Singh said. “These aspirations and ambitions are exerting pressure on governments to deliver more, perform better and be more transparent and more efficient. A revolution of rising expectations is underway."

The results of the elections in four key states reinforce his observation. Wherever the electorate felt the government was not up to the mark in fulfilling its aspirations, it voted with its feet. Good governance and the achievements of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Madhya Pradesh were rewarded while the Congress was ousted in Rajasthan for failing to meet expectations. In Delhi, voters showed faith in Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the new face of politics with the promise of transparency. Although Delhiites may have seen their city’s infrastructure improve in the past 10 years, they are setting their sights higher—on a clean government.

To win elections in a new, changing India, the political class needs to understand the country’s altered demography and the new and different expectations of voters. Enough has been said about the size of India’s young population. The national election next year will have 149.36 million first time voters between the ages of 18 and 23, constituting one-fifth of the electorate. It is estimated that India adds almost 12 million people to its working population each year. Clearly, there is a need to create jobs. Although there are rural job guarantee schemes and other entitlements, the young want to chase bigger dreams. There is clamour for education and access to healthcare as well.

Rapid economic growth in the past two decades led to a wider distribution of per capita income, according to a report by Kotak Institutional Equities. This means India has moved from having just survivors and the real-rich to several consumer classes in between, each with its rising aspirations. This will translate into consumption—India’s consumption market is estimated to grow two-and-a-half times its current size by 2025 with consumers upgrading from low-cost to high-value products. But for this to happen, high, well-distributed growth is critical and productive job opportunities are essential, the report said.

Various research firms have delved deeper into the hope and desires of these new emerging consumer classes. It is an awareness of the expectations of these socio-economic segments that the political class needs to have. Earlier, it was sufficient for the politician to focus on the loosely clubbed burgeoning middle class when it came to aspirations, even while reaching out to the others through sops and entitlements. That has changed. One market research firm talks of a new middle India residing in the non-metros that mimics the habits and aspirations of the large-city consumer; another focuses on the so-called aspirant who can neither be included in the deprived set of population nor the middle class.

The aspirant is the name given to this new emerging class, accounting for some 450 million people who are slowly moving up the ladder to become tomorrow’s middle class, according to a report by Quantum Consumer Consulting. The households in this new class have an annual income of 90,000 to 2 lakh a year and are optimistic and open to experimenting. They seek variety and want to try new things—meaning they are open to change. Could that translate into their choice of a leader as well?

If so, was the new aspirant socio-economic category responsible for giving a chance to the AAP in Delhi? It may take a research firm to figure this, but a quick dip-stick suggests that blue-collared worker, who probably falls in this category, voted for the AAP in Delhi.

Going by the Quantum report, 41% of this new class lives in urban India and may be staring at an impending health crisis in the absence of proper housing infrastructure and sanitation. The empowerment of women is on the rise in this class. The woman’s role of a nurturer has expanded and evolved into that of a family manager who has a say in decision-making, especially on issues that concern her children.

The aspirants may not be able to change where they live, but are attempting to change how they live. A new aesthetic code is emerging at their homes with a need for products such as dishwashing liquids, detergents, floor cleaners and mosquito repellents.

To be sure, according to another survey, rural consumers are spending more on private school education and non-food items. The share of their wallet on food items has declined but their monthly purchase basket shows that they have developed an appetite for new products and are willing to experiment with new brands.

The impact of television on the changes cannot be underplayed. It is playing a big role in helping the new consuming classes “to make the transition from their current social reality to their aspirational reality" through reality shows, advertising of products, even news itself.

Quantum’s research said that in five years, India will see the emergence of a new middle class driven by the motion of aspiration. Clearly, it’s time for political parties to understand the significance of this change and rectify or tweak strategies in keeping with this transformation.

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