‘The spectacular victory of Narendra Modi and the BJP in 2014 and again in 2019 demands a nuanced exploration of the factors that led to it. Though the role of the middle class and the media in the making of what is called the ‘Modi Wave’ is often talked about, a clear-eyed and unbiased look at how they transformed the political landscape in post-liberalization India is still wanting’, reads the blurb of the book.
‘Middle Class, Media and Modi – The Making of A New Electoral Politics’ by Nagesh Prabhu is an important work for two reasons: one, it deals with the key element of Narendra Modi’s momentous rise in India’s parliamentary politics ( he has been on the center stage unfailingly) and two, it is written by a journalist of standing.
A Ph.D. in Political Science, Prabhu is a political analyst and currently Deputy Editor at The Hindu, Bengaluru. An academic and an active journalist for a quarter of a century, he writes regularly on issues related to political economy besides being the author of another book ‘Reflective Shadows: Political Economy of World Bank Lending to India’.
The present book digs deep into the allusions of the Indian middle-class growth while uncovering its role in electoral politics. The emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party since the 1980s and the journey thereon is thoroughly chronicled in the book.
It studies how the Indian middle class, once seen as politically indifferent, has gradually become an important player in Indian politics. This change, which slowly began in the 1990s, reached a climax with Modi becoming the icon of the changing economic demands of the middle class and their ideological rightward slant.
If the new middle class played a decisive role in the electoral outcomes of 2014 and 2019 elections, that has also changed the way how India envisages itself and how the rest of the world sees India. Modi’s management of mainstream and social media has played a key role in his emphatic victories. The volume tells all that and more.
Divided into almost a dozen chapters – Middle Class, Media, and Modi: Ascending the Power Steps; The Nebulous Domain of the Middle Class; Indian Middle Class: British Raj to Post-Emergency; Birth of New Middle Class during Liberal Raj; Middle Class, Media, and BJP; Middle Class and Narendra Modi; Maneuvering the Middle Class; Managing the Unmanageable: Media and Modi and Modi’s Ride to Power on Social Media – Prabhu examines the political developments in a nonjudgmental way.
He looks at how the middle class transformed the political landscape in the post-liberalization India. If India’s middle class has always been at the center of the narrative around the country’s economic growth, it craves for its own economic well-being. While evaluating the growth of the middle class under various Congress governments, Prabhu discusses the role of the middle class in shaping the political economy and touches on the reasons for its support to BJP in the last two general elections.
The rise and growth of the BJP and its current leadership has all through been from the standpoint of caste, identity politics, and the numerous contours of Hindutva. But this book weaves an analysis that is refreshingly new, with a focus on the middle class. Prabhu draws a straight linkage between Modi’s rise to power, the role of the media, and the cumulative space that the middle class has come to occupy in electoral politics.
Writes Prabhu with a touch of contemporariness: ‘The 21-day nationwide lockdown to contain the spread Covid-19 pandemic brought to a grinding halt all businesses, factories, schools/colleges and public transportation in the world’s second-most populous country. The losses caused for many businesses and the hardship faced by common people was acute but all endured under the charismatic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.’
He goes on: ‘Truly, he operates on those soft levers of the middle class and the media through his novel social engineering tools. The is deciphers the charisma that Modi wields on the middle class and the media through which he ascended the political ladder right from a Swayam Sevak to a Pradhan Sevak. The Modi techniques made the burgeoning Indian middle class increasingly leverage a slew of welfare and progressive policies/ programs initiated by his government during the last six years.’
Contrasting with other similar works, Prabhu’s narrative analyzes the politics from the class perspective. He argues that education, income, occupation, and class played a significant role in voting patterns in 2014 and 2019. The highpoint of the book is that it traces the role of the middle class in nation-building during the Nehru and Indira Gandhi regimes. Besides tracing programs launched by the Modi government during the last six years, Prabhu discusses the impact of demonetization, GST, and Ayushman Bharat, and many other welfare schemes on the poor and the middle class.
Prabhu maintains that the middle class, which used to move away from mainstream politics is now negotiating the political frame. While this 400 page book decodes the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Prabhu is rather optimistic when he writes in the epilogue: ‘Politics apart, the Modi government has started identifying specific areas for focus in the economy to make India self-reliant to drive India’s development journey to become a global leader. The Rs 20 lakh crore economic package announced during the lockdown to boost the economy is seen from this perspective. The opportunity is ripe for now to use the available prowess for transforming the Indian economy and lift millions of people out of poverty. If he can pull this off, he would surely go down in history as one the strongest leaders the country has seen.’
For those who have more than ordinary interest in knowing how both the middle class and the media catapulted Modi to power, this book – with a foreword by RS Deshpande former director of the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru – is an indispensable read. It will help scholars of politics, media studies and sociology understand the ‘arsenal’ that Modi used in the elections and how he won them.
‘Middle Class, Media and Modi
Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist