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How Modi Won the Status War

Dipankar Gupta taught sociology in JNU for nearly three decades. He is currently interested in social policy with particular reference to citizenship. His recent books include Talking Sociology (2018), We, the Citizens of India: Democracy’s Must Take Road (2017) and QED: India tests Social Theory (2017)
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The sociology of a landslide


It was a combination of the popular resentment against the cultural markings of the class of inheritors who had nothing to show but their privileged breeding and the failure of caste arithmetic that propelled Narendra Modi to victory. He is a better sociologist than most professionals in the business

NEW TRUTH, NEW RULES

The 2019 General Election in India demonstrates that certain sociological truths which were gradually unfolding before us for some time had finally tossed the veil and revealed themselves. Narendra Modi saw these facts while others were still reluctant to look them in the eye. This gave Modi a head start and before others wised up to the altered circumstances, he changed the rules of engagement and won the day.

Even now his opponents cannot figure out what happened and why they lost so thoroughly. They wonder if they should have perhaps not emphasised the Rafael deal as much as they did; perhaps their income scheme for the poor came too late in the day; maybe they should have bullied Modi with more personal allegations.

They self-flagellate, but with feathers, which is why they don’t realise that the fault does not lie in this or that political programme they had put out, but in the very nature of their being and constitution. They had not evolved to be in step with changed circumstances, and therein lay the problem. What then are these truths that Modi read well and others had not and which, at long last, had come out in the open?

The first observation, right off the bat, is that the traditional elite, who were the old power wielders, are resented primarily for being who they are. The mass of electorates in 2019 are not like what the voters were like earlier. There is a strong resentment among them against those who are privileged and inheritors of wealth. That is pretty standard stuff, but what gives this added significance is the cornering of behavioural attributes and social connections that come from generations of being favoured. The newly emerging aspiring class feel that their labour stays largely unrewarded as these elite representatives control the top spots with so little effort because of their near monopoly of these cultural markers. They are the cultural proletariat and hence, more deserving of recognition.

This anger has been growing for some time, but did not find an outlet earlier, because nobody gave it body and substance the way Narendra Modi did. Yes, ‘chowkidaar chor hai’, and whatever else, could well have been off the mark, but as a class, the old power holders, comprising primarily the inheritor category, were not acceptable any more. It really did not matter what they said, or promised. It was who they were that was a turnoff. Their wealth, by itself was not an issue, as much as their way of life which they never worked to earn. This created a massive ‘status gap’ or ‘status differential’ that leaders were unmindful of earlier, but which cried for attention.

The second truth Modi grasped, and this is a consequence of the first, is that the old electoral calculations, based on caste arithmetic, do not work. It did for a couple of decades after Independence, but not any longer. This trend too can be traced to the decline of the old elite who, at one time, did well with such calculations for they depended on their connections to woo leaders from different factions.

THE STATUS WAR

When addressing the first issue, namely, the inefficacy of the old elite style of Indian politics, we find that the antagonism against the privileged is not expressed in terms of ‘class war’ as much as it is in terms of ‘status war’. It is not as if the economic structure is being questioned. What is being contested is why should those with inherited privileges occupy the top positions when they have not really slogged for it. Modi’s recognition of the ‘cultural proletariat’ not only set the Congress back but introduced a fatal complication in the accepted notion of cultural capital.

Decades have gone by but aspirations released by a post-agrarian economy have not been realised. Schools have come up and the population now is more literate but not at the level that could make them employable. Skills are still languishing and most of the machinery used in Indian manufacture continue to be imported. All of this basically leads one to conclude that the millions leaving low-yielding agriculture find it difficult to progress economically as urban employment has not grown by much.

Most important of all is the daily, constant awareness among the underprivileged of how divergent their lifestyles are from those of the elite. They may have known this earlier, but in the closed feudal economy, the elite also had the power to quash any sign of resentment, even nascent upstart-like behaviour. That has now changed largely because feudalism is long gone.

Thus, while the elite hang on to their lifestyles, they can no longer actually personalise their likes and dislikes to hinder or promote the ways the less privileged live. Therefore, unlike in the earlier period when the underclass quietly swallowed their pride, the situation is very different in contemporary times. Nor is it that humiliations suffered at the workplace can leap across and singe relations at home as well. That gives enough brooding hours and space in which to nurse resentment and give it a future.

Consequently, the cultural attributes these better-off sections display, from the frequent use of the English language to their affluent lifestyles, have now become objects of ire, not of awe, at the popular level. The privileged are viewed as undeserving of their positions of eminence as they are beneficiaries of family wealth and connections and did not acquire their elevated status on their own. Their so-called ‘cultural capital’ now carried negative connotations. On the other hand are the mass of the underprivileged who are scrambling hard to be seen, heard and respected and are still not making the grade. Until that happens, the argument goes, how can India be strong?

NAAMDAARS’ VERSUS ‘KAAMDAARS

Modi deftly crafted this hot, melting iron by casting them into two different moulds. On one side were the inheritors, the ‘naamdaars’, whose present fortune depends on their past connections. They are bearers of family name and reputation and this gives them a clear advantage. He contrasted this class with the ‘kaamdaars’, that is, those who live by their honest labour, with no family resources to fall back on. Their work, however, remains unrewarded because they have been pushed to the margins as the ‘naamdaars’ have taken all the plum positions and set up high cultural barriers. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of truth in this construction and there are people ready to buy it, for it satisfies a felt moral need. Narendra Modi emblematised this attitude and he accomplished this by just being himself.

The old electoral calculations, based on caste arithmetic, do not work. It did for a couple of decades after Independence, but not any longer. This trend too can be traced to the decline of the old elite who, at one time, did well with such calculations for they depended on their connections to woo leaders from different factions

Across the aisle, Modi found in Rahul Gandhi a typical ‘naamdaar’ who, once again, exemplified this status by simply being himself. This truth cannot be dodged for Rahul is a fifth- generation political leader and shows no embarrassment about this fact. As the Congress is also teeming with people of similar backgrounds, it was easy to characterise it as a party of the cotton- wool elite.

In contrast, Modi positioned himself with the others as a ‘kaamdaar’. He recurrently recalled how his lifestyle and upbringing were diametrically opposed to those of the Gandhi family, what with their Western upbringing, frequent trips abroad and their expensive hobbies. On the other hand, Modi dwelt on his indigent childhood, his hardship years as a young man and wore his deprivation like a badge of honour.

This contrast between contestants had never been an issue in the past. India has always had the rich and the poor but they figured in a distant, even academic, third-party fashion. Now, for the first time, the distinction was concretised and named and there were actual people bearing these tags on either side of the political divide. This heightened cultural and lifestyle differences between candidates which immediately benefited Modi’s campaign. Just look at the election results.

It is not just Rahul Gandhi who was politically crushed when he lost his Amethi seat, but a similar fate was reserved for his cohorts and close associates too. The list of vanquished include the likes of Jyotiraditya Scindia (a princeling and Madhavrao Scindia’s son), Jitin Prasada (Jitendra Prasada’s son), RPN Singh (also a princeling and CPN Singh’s son), Vaibhav Gehlot (Ashok Gehlot’s son). These are all ‘inheritors’, all Congress, and they all lost.

It is also significant that the holders of ‘inheritor’ status, but belonging to other political parties opposed to the BJP, were drubbed too. The names include that of Dimple Yadav (Akhilesh Yadav’s wife and Maulayam Singh Yadav’s daughter-in-law), Ajit Singh (Charan Singh’s son), Jayant Chaudhary (Charan Singh’s grandson), Nikhil Kumaraswamy (HD Kumaraswamy’s son) and once again, the list goes on. If Jayant Sinha (technically, also an ‘inheritor’) of the BJP won, he had the Modi wind at his back and he also disclaimed his ancestry by opposing his father. There were a few privileged people (technically, ‘naamdaars’) who also won in these elections, but only because they were with the BJP and deferred to Modi’s leadership.

ASPIRATIONS AND RESENTMENT

In many ways this election was a repetition of 2014, but the prickly resentment against the inheritor class was not so easily apparent then. This sentiment first came to the surprised attention of many observers when demonetisation happened in 2016. The opposition followed academicians who, from their perspective, classified it as an economic bomb that would devastate the unorganised sector. Yet, members of the underclass welcomed it and the experts could not explain why. What they did not factor in was the profound resentment the economically marginalised and underprivileged had towards the better-off. On the surface, it appeared as if there was a sense of cordial clientelism among the less privileged, but the alienation and anger seethed underneath.

Unlike the experts, the poor saw demonetisation in cultural, not economic terms. For them it was primarily an instrument that kicked the rich in the stomach, and they openly rejoiced in this image. Yes, they would lose their jobs but as they were used to being poor they would make do and survive. On the other hand, it is the opulent seths (moneyed class) who have been lanced right through their stuffy pretensions and are now hurting. They are staying up nights, counting their cash and whining over lost pleasure retreats. This is the fate they truly deserve and only Modi could have handed it to them. This point of view was repeated time and again among the less privileged and they were not hesitant in expressing it. A peon in a government office told me that the way demonetisation was carried out clearly shows that god has gifted Modi to the Indian people.

In other words: ‘It’s the culture, stupid.’

In all this, Modi was careful in not unleashing a class war; it was a ‘status war’ he was after. Why should women cook over smoky wood stoves, like he said his mother did? Get them out of this drudgery and give them cooking gas instead (the Ujjwala scheme). Why subject one’s kin, especially the women in the family, to the shame of going to the fields? Get them off such embarrassments and give them toilets instead (the Swachh Bharat scheme). It is not really how effective these projects were that mattered; what seems to count is that Modi is out there straining to flatten lifestyle differences. Jobs are scarce now, they were scarce earlier too, so what is new? The newness was that Modi addressed status concerns: a bank account, a gas cylinder, an indoor toilet. That’s what is new.

Modi found in Rahul Gandhi a typical ‘naamdaar’ who, once again, exemplified this status by simply being himself. This truth cannot be dodged for Rahul is a fifth-generation political leader and shows no embarrassment about this fact

Modi went on to elaborate that these everyday issues of pride were never quite emphasised in the past because the ‘inheritors’, unlike him, had no up-close understanding of how the poor lived and the honour they longed for. There have been inadequacies in both the cooking gas and toilet projects, but Modi repeatedly invoked them, full blast, as his major achievements. Importantly, this effort made an impression on the consciousness of the poor, because, as the saying goes, it is the thought that counts.

It is time now to place matters in context. For this we need to go back and highlight how the post-Independence constitutional abolition of landlordism deeply impacted Indian society. At one stroke, it took the ground away on which the landed elite had long planted itself. When this policy was first inaugurated, the peasants and marginal farmers were too new to the altered set up to realise how it could dramatically empower them in quick time. In their minds, and in the muddy fields, they still lacked the confidence and the wherewithal to strike out on their own. This allowed the earlier feudal masters to continue as patrons, but the notice period had already been announced.

WHEN LIFESTYLES CLASH

Over the past 70 years their once powerful status as patrons and overlords had all but gone, but their wealthy ways stayed with them. This is the paradoxical position chartered members of the old elite find themselves in now and it is this contradiction that is playing out in contemporary politics. Here is a category of people with wealth, education and social connections, but they are all inwardly oriented. In the past, they were also the locus of everyday power, they could enter your homes, favour you or ruin you. Now that ability is no longer there, but all their lifestyle trappings are still, by and large, in place.

This shows up in the frequent use of English by the inheritor ‘naamdaar ’ class, and by the fact that their social circles are, to a large extent, predetermined by family ties. It is this that continues to provide them with privileged access to the upper reaches of the bureaucratic and management rungs. At the same time they are incapable of being patrons, like their forebears were, but can hold up their noses like their ancestors once did. This lacks conviction today and the underclass is quick to seize upon it.

Unlike the experts, the poor saw demonetisation in cultural, not economic terms. For them it was primarily an instrument that kicked the rich in the stomach, and they openly rejoiced in this image. Yes, they would lose their jobs but as they were used to being poor they would make do and survive

One of the reasons why the valourising of Hindu tradition found popular sympathy was because of the belief that the other side, the ‘naamdaars’ were happier with Western cultural trappings than their own. This Westernisation was not just limited to the spontaneous use of the English language by this class of elite, but also in terms of their absorption of Western habits and manners. Naturally, it was immensely satisfying for the non-elite ‘kaamdaars’ to showcase an alternate cultural storehouse and position it angularly against the ‘kaamdaar’ ways.

Now that democracy has politically levelled the field between classes, the cultural ire against the privileged inheritors is palpable. They are not patrons either in the way some of their parents and grandparents were. The largesse and idiosyncratic benevolence of this superior class are no longer substantial, nor critical, enough for the once supplicant subaltern people to quietly suffer their pretentious deportment. Even so, they still have an impressive head start because of their education, contacts and social skills—all of which can take generations to cultivate. This makes it pointless to economically displace this class for, at the aspirational level, there are many who would like to be in the economic spaces the ‘naamdaars’ now occupy, but with a cultural difference. Understandably, the BJP is both cautious and prudent in not encouraging the one big wrecking ball solution to end all solutions. What counts for more, politically, is to hit back at the culture snub that the non-‘naamdaars’ sense on a daily basis.

THE POST-PATRON ERA

Narendra Modi sensed this growing feeling well before others. He not only kept his distance socially from the inheritor class, but even his close political allies were nearly always self-made individuals. What Modi successfully accomplished with this ‘naamdaar’-‘kaamdaar’ distinction was to give the underprivileged a sense of just power and to present himself as a role model without carrying out a full-blooded revolt against the establishment. As long as the ‘naamdaars’ were shorn off their influence and their aura in the political sphere, a moral victory is scored. The BJP sang this tune repeatedly and Modi amplified it.

At the same time, there was no need for economic philippics, or disturbances. The stock market has responded positively to Modi’s victory and the ‘kaamdaars’ feel satisfied that at least the political ‘naamdaars’—the inheritors—were put in place. This provided them with a sense of satisfaction as it salved their feeling of cultural humiliation at the hands of the better-off. Even the first-generation wealthy could identify themselves with the ‘kaamdaar’ metaphoric tag as they too feel culturally undermined by the ‘naamdaars’. The status war has multiple economic classes on both sides and this makes economic restructuring an unworthy exercise. Everybody loves money, especially when it is in your pocket. What counts the most is that Modi ushered on stage a festering anger which was waiting and stamping its feet in the wings.

In other words, the ‘naamdaar’-‘kaamdaar’ separation is the political expression of a culture struggle, and Modi expertly filled its sails. The inheritor class, as a consequence, are holding on to their cultural attributes like safety vests in a sinking ship. A major reason for this, as already mentioned, is the actual inability of the once elite community to be patrons and power wielders any longer; note, for instance, the absence of big landlords today. In addition, and as a follow-up, the once client communities have, through democracy, seen the advantage of the vote, upward mobility and the opening up of new economic opportunities outside the control of earlier patrons. This makes them way more confident of themselves and in readiness to cock a snook at the earlier inheritor class.

However, as lifestyle divergences are still so wide, there are many status gaps yet waiting to be bridged. This feeling has been expressed primarily at the political level, as of now, but it is not over yet. The social scenario will be seriously impacted if the ambitions of ‘kaamdaars’ are not realised soon enough. If the actual advancement of the ‘kaamdaars’ does not occur in terms of jobs and economic opportunities in the not-too-distant future, one would feel its repercussions quite palpably before long.

Now that the lid is off and earlier social inhibitors, such as family and social ties, have been undermined, if aspirations of ‘kaamdaars’ are unmet in real terms, it is quite possible that social disruptions may occur frequently and randomly. This could show up in elevated crime figures, particularly in urban areas. It is worth keeping in mind that status war advances also create two consequences. First, they give confidence to those who once felt humiliated. Second, as a fallout of the first, this confidence also encourages impatience in getting one’s way.

PATRONAGE AND CASTE ARITHMETIC

Changing gears, this General Election further confirms that caste calculations do not work. In the old days, say till about the mid-70s, the country was still very rural. The change away from feudalism was well underway but non-agrarian and urban opportunities were slow in coming. This was the reason why the voting generation of the time still looked up to patrons for guidance and for their idiosyncratic benevolence. Their children, who constitute the bulk of voters today are, as we mentioned earlier, not in awe of feudal leftovers any longer.

What is new? The newness was that Modi addressed status concerns: a bank account, a gas cylinder, an indoor toilet. That’s what is new

Caste politics worked as long as the old patrons were politically powerful. They could command their clients to vote for a person who nearly always belonged to the elite overlord’s family or social circle. This is why it was possible to predict along caste lines and analysts were quite satisfied with this and did not dig further. It just reconfirmed their exotic understanding of caste where those at the top of the hierarchy were unquestioned leaders for the rest.

What they never paid attention to was the fact that the subaltern castes did not accept the degradation they suffered routinely. In fact, the so-called lower castes, all along, harboured alternate origin tales which challenged those that the literate Brahminical castes had put out. In these myths all castes, including those the Brahminical considered ‘polluting’, saw themselves as exalted beings and better than the rest. If they happened to be subjugated at present it was on account of deceit, or lost wars, or even because some gods have mercurial temperaments.

However, as these origin stories, or jati puranas, were usually transmitted orally and, for generations in hushed tones, the world outside had not heard of them. Yet, when feudalism collapsed and the earlier landed elite no longer called the shots, the hitherto subjugated castes asserted their pride, broadcast their origin tales and energetically entered politics.

As the remnants of landlordism (zamindari) slowly disappeared, many peasant castes raised their heads. When they looked around, they realised that their future lay in urban jobs as the rural economy could neither sustain nor bind them. In time, a class of peasants emerged to take up leadership positions in rural India. They had enough grains in the kitchen and relatives in the police and lower-level administration to have the audacity to speak up. This is how certain castes, such as Jats and Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh, for instance, rose to political prominence in the 80s.

Their superior influence created the exaggerated impression that these castes numerically outnumbered the rest in certain constituencies. This misperception felt real because, till the late 90s, rural political activists largely belonged to these dominant peasant castes. This let them, ganglion-like, to forge the aspirational nerve ends of diverse, less endowed, rural classes, and retain the leading role. Lalu Prasad or Mulayam Singh Yadav, in Bihar and UP, respectively, are products of this process.

The matter appeared settled, but it was not. Democratisation was continuing its work and had gradually seeped through to create a liberating effect among the poorer peasantry too. Kurmis, Koeris, Lodhs and Nonias, and other like communities, felt this upward surge and, in quick time, nurtured a number of literates and notables from among their kin and clan. They were now ready to showcase their very own virtuosos and did not need the help of Jats and Yadavs any longer. This is where we are at today.

CASTE DEMOGRAPHY

Very soon the competition heated up and became really intense as each caste found the legs to stand up for itself. This should have brought to attention the fact that in no parliamentary constituency does any one caste have absolute numerical preponderance. Yadavs, for example, make only about seven per cent of the population of Uttar Pradesh, and yet the popular view among scholars and the media is that Yadavs rule chunks of UP. Likewise, Jats are but eight per cent of west UP’s population and nowhere close to being a majority, or even numerically dominant, community.

What Modi successfully accomplished with this ‘naamdaar’-’kaamdaar’ distinction was to give the underprivileged a sense of just power and to present himself as a role model without carrying out a full-blooded revolt against the establishment

In most cases then, there are at least five to six castes of roughly equal numbers and this runs counter to the popular view that a single caste can determine political outcomes. As nearly always there are two major contenders in any constituency, most people are forced to vote outside their caste. The demographics, such as they are, do not allow even the diehard casteist to vote every time for his or her own caste. This hard truth has never been properly appreciated and analysts have gone about as if single castes can numerically dominate constituencies. On occasions, they even assumed that castes whose traditional occupations were similar, such as in agriculture or crafts, naturally came together.

Such conclusions can only come about if one has an incomplete comprehension of caste. The origin tales and specific practices of each caste actually create a sense of ‘mutual repulsion’ (to quote Célestin Bouglé) in the caste order. There is nothing then in caste ideology that brings castes together, but everything that separates them. Under these conditions, if one were to plan one’s election strategy purely on the basis of caste arithmetic, one is bound to go wrong and end up with an ejection strategy. Caste ideologies do not sponsor natural friends, but only natural enemies.

Therefore, if castes seem to come together, look carefully. There is always something outside of caste, such as the coincidence of economic interests, which have brought about these caste combines. The OBC mobilisation for reservations in urban jobs and educational institutions provided that secular goal that overrode caste differences. But now that this end has been, more or less, realised, it will be a long time before that kind of OBC consolidation repeats itself.

Narendra Modi was right once again. He did not depend on caste arithmetic, but the other side did. The belief that Yadavs and Jatavs could combine and win came to grief as they just did not have the numbers. They indulged in caste arithmetic and put forward their caste heroes, only to be upended at the elections. What Modi did instead was to gather the other castes under the BJP by portraying Yadav and Jatav leaders as being self-obsessed by their respective caste interests. Modi let Yadavs and Jatavs paint themselves into a corner and walked away with the rest.

The bulk of rural voters, of diverse caste backgrounds, had no sympathy for Yadav or Jatav attempts at aggrandisement. It is true that when the old landlords’ power waned, the better-off among the peasant and Scheduled Castes (Yadavs and Jatavs, respectively) had the upper hand. This should not be taken to mean they could retain this advantage in perpetuity. Just as the feudal elite lost their domination, so did the once better-endowed subaltern castes. The difference is that for the latter their political diminution happened quicker.

Modi’s crusade against ‘naamdaars’ had an important spillover effect when strategising rural votes. ‘Naamdaars’, Modi argued, trusted their past connections and patron-like ties in being able to control caste arithmetic. They knew specific caste and community bosses and believed that making deals with these personages would see them through at election time.

Modi chose a different route that was not caste-specific and this had distinct advantages. Not only did this strategy free the BJP from faulty caste arithmetic, it also allowed Modi to win over all those, from different castes, who felt left out in the past years of Yadav dominance. One needs to add to this the Yadav dissenters too. Put them together and the reasons for Modi’s massive victory in rural India is easily understood. Incidentally, this is exactly the game plan Modi had adopted when the BJP won the 2017 Assembly elections in UP. The BJP was smart enough to learn from it and the BSP-SP front lost because it did not care to draw lessons from this experience. No doubt there are slow learners, but they are a lot better than the ‘no learners’.

Recall now what we said a little while back about how with advancing democracy every caste has succeeded in generating its very own troupe of virtuosos and important personages. This explains why all castes today can match virtuoso for virtuoso with those they had earlier looked up to with some reverence. Further, with the shift to an urbanised, non-agrarian economy, fortunes among those of the same caste have also begun to widely differ, creating further internal cleavages.

Thus, while the Congress and caste parties like Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party were nursing exotic plants in named flower pots, ‘naamdaar’ style, Modi went about ploughing the whole field, carefully avoiding the pots. The harvest is there for all to see. Modi has a bumper crop and the others have come a cropper.

It was then a combination of the popular resentment against the cultural markings of the class of inheritors (‘naamdaars’) who had nothing to show but their privileged breeding and the failure of caste arithmetic that propelled Narendra Modi to victory. In the final analysis, one must admit, Narendra Modi is a better sociologist than most professionals in the business.

SOURCE CREDIBILITY

As Narendra Modi’s ‘naamdaar’ versus ‘kaamdaar’ slogan easily captivated millions, he had won what sociologists call ‘source credibility’. The status war that this distinction symbolised made immediate sense to many and did not require much persuasion. As Modi initiated this process, the mantle of ‘source credibility’ came easily to him.

With a high credibility rating on his side, there is a greater willingness to endorse other issues that Modi might wish to emphasise. These matters will tend not to be closely quizzed as he has already established his credibility stature

From this point on, with a high credibility rating on his side, there is a greater willingness to endorse other issues that Modi might wish to emphasise. These matters will tend not to be closely quizzed as he has already established his credibility stature. If anybody else were to raise similar issues the same people might want greater scrutiny. This, however, will not apply to Modi for he is now a ‘credible source’, a kind of truth fount who can’t be wrong.

For example, when Modi fired warning shots to alert India against Pakistan’s territorial ambitions, even those far away from the national borders, such as in Karnataka, were energised. Again, after the ‘surgical strike’ in Balakot by the Indian Air Force on Pakistani terrorist targets, any doubts of the efficacy of this action was treated as unpatriotic by many. Normally, it would take a victorious army marching into enemy territory, after a bitter war, for people to be so euphorically charged. But because Modi had already wowed hearts and established credibility among broad sections with his well-orchestrated attacks on ‘naamdaars’ that accolades for Balakot were handed readily to him. On the obverse side, and this is a collateral benefit, any questioning of the Government’s position on Balakot was seen as distasteful at the popular level. Yet, the Congress went on and on. Once again, it misread the graffiti on the wall.

This aspect of ‘source credibility’ can be seen in other areas too. It has been seven decades since India became independent and there are many signs of development for which earlier Governments deserve credit. Literacy is up four times, infant mortality down there times, poverty percentages reduced by more than a third. What remain stubbornly present are low levels of meaningful employment, and now a high number of educated unemployed. The pressure point is not absolute poverty but ‘relative deprivation’. Politically speaking, this is much more incendiary, as it also carries a cultural baggage. As people are now better educated and also because urbanisation opens doors in one’s imagination, they demand much more than their poorer and less literate parents.

Under these conditions, expect the sense of relative deprivation to be heightened as there are now bagfuls of unrealised aspirations. A large number of the unemployed have degrees, but from lower-grade management and technical institutes. They know a little English, but feel the language barrier terribly. Add to this their complete rejection of their parents’ humble occupation, and one can get an idea how profound their sense of deprivation really is. They are ready to roll and are looking for leadership and direction. They were cheering on Anna Hazare in 2011, but that affair felt like a vacation crush; it started and ended so quickly. In Modi, however, they can see the prospects of a long relationship and have aligned their fates with his.

Modi promises to deliver on health, education, employment and says he wants more time; five years is just not enough. This explanation may not have held good for many others, but because Modi contrasted six decades of ‘naamdaar’ rule with but half-a- decade of his, the majority found his claim credible. After all, he is the first person to culturally confront the elite; if he could do that, he must also be right about the rest.

Winning credibility is somewhat like knowing how to cycle. Once you get it, you can’t quite lose it.

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