There has been much discussion about the low percentage of voting in Mumbai corporation elections particularly among middle class and some sections of poor. The tripod constructed by Nehru consisted of Socialism, Secularism and electoral supremacy. The socialism part is gone with Narasimha Rao even though it is still in our constitution declaring us as socialist republic and making every elected representative to swear by it to expose our total hypocrisy in running our polity. The day the law was amended to deny the alimony for Shah Banu the edifice of secularism was demolished and after that it is only name calling by everybody about their opponents. The third leg of the Nehruvian tripod namely the primacy of elections and elected bodies in making laws was treated with enormous amount of respect nay reverence. The members of the state assemblies and Parliament were called law makers even though good numbers do not have elementary idea of the laws they make. The disconnect between the burgeoning middle class and the so called law makers was widening leaps and bounds. The Nehruvian middle class was essentially HMT/BHEL/LIC/SBI middle class or what one can call as the Public Sector Undertaking [PSU] middle class. Actually the aim of every engineer and accountants in the fifties and sixties was to get into one of these PSU’s. Massive preparations were made to conduct the exams to enter these giants which provided prestige and security of tenure till retirement. The PSU middle class was aligned with left unions and wanted more of Government entities and enhanced pay. They waved the flags when Indira nationalised the banks and red flags were waved in their processions and Inquilab Jindabad was shouted by the PSU middle class asking for pay revision. Bengal was leading this class along with Kerala. This middle class influenced and infiltrated all aspects of Indian life including arts/cinema/literature/books/history etc.
But the eighties and more so nineties were different periods. The fall of Berlin Wall was a major marker on the side of ideology. Narasimha Rao understood history better than many a historians. The economy opened up and a new middle class based on service economy came about. The share of Service Sector moved above 60 percent and its growth was the growth of the economy. Even though information Technology forms a small part of our service economy for brevity we can call this as Software [SW] middleclass. So the Software middle class replaced the PSU middle class and the red flag became saffron in colour. Its aspirations are different and for this middle class Inquilab is another lab. It is just not employed white collar; it is also huge mass of self employed. This could number anywhere upward of 20 crores. The disconnect between this middle class and the elected representatives is very large particularly at the local level. For instance in Bangalore or Mumbai the corporators are completely in disconnect with this middle class in terms of language, dress and idioms. Most of the corporators at local level are road contractors or hooch traders or lottery barons and this middle class is alienated from them.
The Parliament has many members charged with criminal activities The criticism is that this software middle class is not understanding Parliamentary system. Our Parliament is supreme and -Anna whom this middle class like- is not an elected person. The critics fail to understand that Manmohan Singh is not an elected person not even by the Congress Parliamentary Party. The Congress constitution was amended in May 2004 to make Sonia Gandhi decide on the Prime Minister and she chose Manmohan Singh. The National advisory Council is not an elected body but it formulates laws which are accepted by the Government. The issue of being elected is laughed at by this middle class. The social contract of this middle class with the supremacy of the parliament is over. It is time our Parliamentarians –both ruling and opposition—realise this.
The Mumbai middle class and even the poor in many localities did not bother about local elections But people argue that in Kolkata the voting is better. Mumbai poverty is aspirational poverty while as Kolkata poverty is deprivation poverty. In Mumbai hope soar high for possibilities in Kolkata it is sadness and deprivation. So the Kolkata middleclass wants more government. Mumbai and Bangalore do not—it creates walled communities; power generators, ground water; private security, dish antenna for DTH etc. Only contact with the real India is through garbage disposal. As the economic conditions become better the disconnect will increase since all political parties except BJP/Communists are family enterprises.
It is necessary for us to understand the huge fault line which has developed knocking the third leg of the Nehruvian tripod. Are we in a position to deal with this? Are we going to mouth age old slogans of PSU middle class? Is it possible to bring the Parliament and other elected bodies in sync with the aspirations of the soft ware middle class? After all in spite of all exhortations by Lenin and Mao it is the middle class which lead change in our country- be it independence struggle or struggle against emergency. If Parliament becomes irrelevant then it has a huge challenge for us to re-work our institutions. That should be the focus now instead of the inane talk of parliament is supreme or constitution is supreme or people are supreme.
May be time has come to ponder over if the current parliamentary system has outlived its purpose? Will we live up to the Challenge?