AAP ka baap, BJP ka dada: The rise of Indiaâ€™s middle class It isn't about Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal really - even though they may be the early beneficiaries. What the rise of Modi and Kejriwal last year signifies is the rediscovery of the political process by a newly re-energised middle class, however this class is defined. The line connecting the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement in 2011 to the Delhi gangrape protests in 2012 to the illegal Campa-cola compound resistance in 2013 to the Modi and Kejriwal circuses runs through the Indian middle class. The size of this class could range from a low of 70 million to nearly 300 million, but even outside these numbers the broader â€œmiddle classâ€ is tasting the heady success of re-enfranchisement. Their power now counts in politics as never before. As any political scientist will tell you, few ideas for change can take off without the active involvement of the middle class. The freedom movement got broadbased when the pre-independence middle classes united under Gandhi. The Left movement took off with them at the helm - but never grew much clout outside Kerala and West Bengal. The Naxal and Maoist movements draw their intellectual sustenance from the same class. The anti-foreigner upsurge in Assam, the Telugu pride movement under NT Rama Rao, and the Khalistan militancy in the 1980s were all driven by the middle class. The middle class, often self-absorbed in pursuing its own interests, is a peaceable beast for long periods of time, but when awakened it brings change and upheaval. It usually hates anarchy, but when it abandons its fears, it moves aggressively. It is easy to ascribe the new awakening of the middle classes to Modi's oratorical skills or Kejriwal's attempts at grassroots democracy, but the real truth is that a concatenation of events and circumstances has enabled their rise. The stars are in perfect alignment right now. The numbers, the national mood, the anger, the shedding of old fears of anarchy in the face of poor governance and political arrogance â€“ all have combined to give the middle classes the right platform for moving beyond self-absorption to political activism. Consider what has changed. For the first time in our independent history, the non-poor constitute an overwhelming majority in India - around 900 million people, or 200 million households. My simple definition of the non-poor is people who do not have to go hungry any day of the year and also have reasonable access to the basic necessities of life - food, water, clothing, et al â€“ even if these things are of doubtful quality. The Planning Commissionâ€™s estimates, based on the Tendulkar poverty line, much criticised by the Left, estimates the number of poor people at around 270 million. The really poor are a minority in India. Unless you have a vested interest in denying the reduction of poverty, we can say that there are approximately only around 300 million people who don't fit the definition of non-poor. The 900 million non-poor Indians do not all constitute a viable middle class, but they are united by a common need for better governance, and led by hopes for a better tomorrow. They aspire for better things. Caste, religion and regional factors may play a role in their lives, but class is also beginning to matter. As an aside, one can point out that the biggest mauling in Delhi was received not by the Congress, but Mayawati's BSP. Sections of Dalits are thinking class as much as caste in the metros. It is only a matter of time before the message reaches their families back home in the backwaters of Uttar Pradesh. This weakening of the caste impulse is happening at the top end too. Or why would a Marwari/Bania name like Kejriwal resonate so much in Delhi? Or why would a V Balakrishnan (ex-Infosys CFO) decide to join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)? The renewed rise of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is also the result of a weakening of caste leanings. Not all Yadavs will vote for Mulayam Singh or Lalu Prasad, and not all Kurmis think Nitish Kumar needs to be supported merely because he is one of us. In fact, I am willing to bet that the BJP can make a big impact south of the Vindhyas (in terms of votes, not seats) if it seeks to build the party on its own rather than in alliance with the usual caste-based suspects. In the caste and religion-defined politics of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the BJP would be as refreshing a change today as the AAP is/was in Delhi. In fact, the BJPâ€™s rise in Karnataka was also the result of this same upsurge, but the party messed up big during BS Yeddyurappaâ€™s reign in the wrong belief that it was all about getting the Lingayat vote and somehow staying in power. Tamil Nadu is ready to break out of the iron-clasp of the Dravidian parties, and Kerala out of the bipolarity of the UDF-LDF, Tweedledum-Tweedledee options â€“ just as Delhi showed last month. Caste politics may be on its last legs in Tamil Nadu, and religious politics in Kerala, but no one has been bold enough to test the hypothesis. The Congress missed a golden opportunity, and maybe the BJP will miss it too. AAP does not exist in Tamil Nadu as yet. Maybe it will catalyse change. Why is the middle class emerging from chrysalis now, and why did everyone miss its significance till Delhi proved otherwise? The answer may be a bit complicated, but it runs like this. At the best of times, the middle class is basically driven by self-interest â€“ as its role in various stages of pre- and post-independent Indian history attests. If the parties in power are serving its broad interests, the middle class usually retreats to continue its normal pursuits. Consider this brief history of the middle class: after participating in the freedom struggle, the middle class was happy to leave the running of the country in Congress hands and went on to pursue various professions. Under the Nehruvian model of building â€œthe temples of modern Indiaâ€, the middle class took to higher education in droves, flooding the IITs, regional engineering colleges and, later, the IIMs. This honeymoon ended in the late 1960s and early 1970s as growth faltered, and when Indira Gandhi decided that the poor were a larger vote bank. Elsewhere in the states, the middle classes started choosing regional parties to express their discontent, but poor economic growth ensured that the middle classes were never sizeable in terms of number to matter electorally. Most, in fact, started believing that politics had nothing in it for them. The Jayaprakash Narayan and Mandal-Mandir movements saw the middle classes split â€“ with caste beginning to play a major role in the 1980s and early 1990s. Both the Mandal and Mandir movements expanded the middle classes â€“ one by empowering the OBCs, and the other by co-opting the OBCs under a broader religious umbrella. It is worth noting that the most powerful BJP leaders today are not the traditional upper castes â€“ but OBCs like Modi, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, et al. The mandir movement was also led by OBCs â€“ Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar... Thatâ€™s because the mandir movement also had a social content â€“ it enabled the OBCs to take centre-stage under the Bhagwa. But while the 1980s began expanding the middle class base through social empowerment, the economic empowerment process really began only after 1991. The high growth engendered by the Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh reforms, and the super-fast growth seen during UPA-1, expanded the middle classes so rapidly that the poor started losing their political clout. The BJP lost in 2004 because the middle classes were not big enough then. It took faster growth under UPA-1 to expand the base of the non-poor to reach critical mass. It is ironic that the same Congress that enabled this rapid shrinkage in poverty has now created an aspirational lower and middle middle class that is nauseated by the Congress partyâ€™s feudal politics. Once seen as an inclusive party, a broad tent under which everybody could prosper, the Congress is now widely believed to be a non-inclusive party run by a feudal family. The middle class does not like any formal ceiling to its growth and the fact that inside the Congress it can only aspire to play courtier to the Dynasty is a dampener. This is the case even with caste-based parties â€“ from BSP to SP to the various Dravidian parties - since it means growth in politics will be circumscribed by your caste affiliation. Nandan Nilekani may have thought the Congress was the only route to political progress five years ago, but his former Infosys colleague Balakrishnan believes his prospects are better in AAP. Class will not ultimately be contained by caste, religion and dynasty politics. If the Congress wants a future, it has to abandon dynasty. If the BJP wants one, it has to abandon narrow sectarian impulses. If the Aam Aadmi Party wants to remain a heart-throb, it has to get its economics right. The new middle class is a creature of economic liberalisation and will not be happy to go back to the era of the nanny state and political handouts during election time. Kejriwal and Modi have been early beneficiaries of a resurgent middle class, but the class goes beyond both parties. It is AAP ka baap, and BJP ka dada.