The Rise of the New Minority

India is a country of minorities, minorities from the perspective of being a political constituency.

A political constituency is a group of people who demonstrate a similar political preference and political behaviour, with similar requirements in terms of policy and governance.

Tamils are approximately 6% of Indian population, Bengalis are approximately 7% of Indian population, Gujaratis are approximately 4.9% of Indian population, Marathis are approximately 7% of Indian population and so on. None of them can be construed to have any significant political influence as a single minority entity. What is even more interesting to note is that even this small single digit percentage group of people are not really a single political constituency as they do not behave similarly in their political preference. So, in reality, the political constituencies are even smaller and more fragmented than the percentages shown above.

The largest political constituencies in India could be that of Muslims (13.4% of the Indian population), and the Dalits (16.6% of the Indian population). Together, the two constituencies account for about 30% of vote share, a formidable number for influencing the outcome of elections. Therefore, as a democracy, one can observe that many of the democratically elected government’s policies in India are aligned to the development of these two significant minority groups.

However, there now appears to be a new minority political constituency that is fast emerging into a large constituency, which political parties can ignore only at their own risk. Interestingly, the more this political constituency grows, the other political constituencies shrink. This is the political constituency of the Middle Class.

Elections after elections, this class has shown to have similar political aspirations and similar voting behaviour – that is most of them do not tend to vote as per widely held perceptions. So clearly, even by not voting, they have demonstrated to be a single, fairly homogenous political constituency.

The Indian middle class can be identified further with their distinct middle class values such as concern with the welfare of the family, focus on being upwardly mobile, adherence to rules and regulations, a tolerant and less discriminating outlook, largely confirming unless pushed to the limits, reluctance to revolt but vocal about resentments, sharp views on current affairs, and highly cynical. It’s these shared behavioural and aspirational attitudes that make the middle class a constituency in its own.

But the key question is how big is this constituency? How politically significant is this constituency?

Different estimates put the Indian middle class between 250-350 million, which not only makes it 20-30 per cent of the Indian population, but also nearly as big as the population of the USA. However, these estimates are based on the economic status of people and not based on their value systems and aspirations. Therefore, the real size of this constituency is an open question. Unless they have the same value systems and beliefs and aspirations, they will not behave similarly from a political perspective.

However, no matter what the estimate is, it would be difficult to deny the fact that the middle class has indeed become a political constituency to reckon with. More importantly, as mentioned earlier, the Middle Class grows when people from other political constituencies move into this class. Also, as this country’s demography pushes more people into the younger generation of voters, it is a good guess that a larger number of these young voters will demonstrate Middle Class affiliations. Therefore, when the Middle Class grows, all other political constituencies such as the Muslims, Dalits, Bengalis, Tamils etc, shrink.

This class also has the ability to influence the other political constituencies and is playing a crucial role in evolving new social mores which are having a disproportionate impact on our legislative framework, judicial systems, economic framework, industrial policy, social policies and in fact, in all aspects of our countries governance.

This is also the class which has got better access to new age information technology tools that act as force multipliers to this ability to influence. One has seen in recent past how social media was leveraged to create the largest civil movements since independence.

Political parties have been generally not focused on the Great Indian Middle Class as a political constituency. This was probably because of the relatively small size and even more limited influence that this class had on the voting outcomes in the previous decade. Middle Class was deeply cynical about all the political options and hence were absent from the polling booths.

It is expected that the Great Indian Middle Class will always have a disproportionate influence on the outcome of the General Elections. Political parties can ignore the aspirations of this class only at their own peril.

This article was republished from the author’s personal blog with permission. Read the original article here.