An extensive survey by the British Council Pakistan released on the 3rd of April this year points at an emerging middle-class with a growing number of young people in it.
Though the survey attempted to examine and assess the politics and sociology of youth from across the classes in urban and rural Pakistan, its main focus seems to be on how the country’s middle-class youth is shaping up for the coming election.
Dr Durr-e-Nayab, Chief of Research at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, uses a multi-dimensional index to define class, based on data that is drawn from the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey that was conducted in 2010-11.
According to her definition middle class Pakistanis are likely to live in a house where at least one person has a college education and where the head of the household is in non-manual work; have incomes at least double the poverty line; and own reasonably spacious houses and a range of consumer goods.
Dr Nayab’s research shows that the strict middle class now makes up 24per cent of Pakistan’s population, from 19 per cent in 2007-2008, with nearly 40 per cent of urban dwellers falling into the middle class bracket.
The most important thing is that this makes the middle class a powerful economic, social and political force, especially in towns and cities.
The British Council survey investigates the economic, social, cultural and, of course, the political reasons why a young middle-class Pakistani would (or not) vote in the forthcoming general election scheduled for May 11.
However, even a few days after the findings of the survey were released; two of these findings have already begun to stand out, promising to generate the most debate.
5,271 Pakistanis between the ages of 18 and 29 were interviewed by the surveyors across Pakistan (including FATA, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan).
64 per cent of the interviewed males and 75 per cent of the women described themselves to be as being conservative/religious.
When asked what they thought was the best political system for Pakistan, 38 per cent said ‘Islamic Shariah,’ 32 per cent preferred a military dictatorship and 22per cent thought democracy was the best system for the country.
Even though the two findings (Shariah rule and military dictatorship) are being treated separately by some alarmed analysts, in all probability these findings are quite related, if not being one and the same.
On the strong assumption that the majority of the youth interviewed for the survey belonged to what the report defined as the middle-class, one should not be so surprised by the mentioned findings.
From middle to right
From the early 20th century onwards, political-economists have described the middle-classes to be a largely conservative entity.
But according to political philosophers like Marx and Engels, the bourgeoisie (middle and lower middle-classes) had played (in Europe) ‘a most revolutionary role’ (until about the early 19th century) when it started to successfully wrest away political and economic power from the old centres of power dominated by monarchs, the Catholic clergy and the landed elites.
By the late 19th and early 20th centuries the European and American middle-classes had not only grown in size, they had driven and then rode on the crest of age defining historical epochs like the Renaissance, the ‘Age of Reason’, French and American Revolutions, trade linked to European colonialism and the Industrial Revolution, to become the new ruling classes in the West.
From then on, a concentrated effort was afoot to consolidate their new-found economic and political gains. This mostly translated into the middle-classes now gradually reversing their old revolutionary character by grounding themselves in any political system that (they believed) best secured their economic and other class interests.
Democracy remains to be this preferred system because not only is it based on the thoughts and efforts of intellectuals and political activists that largely belonged to the middle-classes of Europe and America, it successfully absorbs both the right and left sides of the conventional ideological divides without disturbing the economic and social dynamics from which the middle-classes mostly derive their influence and power.
But what happens when, due to a grave economic or political crises, democracy begins to lose its footing, or uncannily allows in forces that do begin to threaten the middle-classes’ economic and political interests?
The 20th century is packed with incidents reflecting how the middle-classes changed their democratic trajectory and became willing political and economic allies of anti-democratic and reactionary forces that were generated by widespread economic and political crises.
When the First World War (1914-1918) ravaged the economies of various European countries and these countries spun further down the spiral after the global economic crises set off by the 1929 Wall Street Crash in the United States, a number of European countries saw the sudden rise of fascist outfits.