Among the broad promises in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto for the 2014 election were an emphasis on smarter urbanisation and an assurance to pay special attention to the needs of the “neo-middle classes”.

Cities were “high growth centres”, the manifesto argued, and the BJP would treat urbanisation as an opportunity rather than as a threat. Accordingly, the saffron party planned to urbanise India by creating 100 smart cities and improving amenities such as transport, sanitation and waste management.

The manifesto also focused on the neo-middle class, a term that the BJP popularised to refer to the socioeconomic group of people who had risen from poverty, were not quite middle class yet but had talent, aspirations and purchasing power. This class needed “amenities and services of a certain standard”, which the BJP government would deliver by improving various aspects of the public sector.

How has the BJP fared in fulfilling its campaign various promises about improving cities and ensuring better services for the neo-middle class? takes a look:

Urban centres

Building “100 new cities enabled with the latest in technology and infrastructure”.
Status: The Smart Cities Mission was launched in 2015, after which 100 cities were selected for central grants of Rs 500 crore each. The mission proposed to develop these as cities with core infrastructure, public transport and affordable housing, but implementation has been slow. Only 1.8% of the funds released had been used by March 2018. Critics also claim that the mission is creating “smart enclaves”, with only small areas in the selected cities poised to consume 80% of the funds.

Upgrading sanitation, improving waste and water management infrastructure.
Status: The urban component of the Swachh Bharat Mission was supposed to devote 50% of its funds for solid waste management. But in the past four years, only 38% of the funds have gone towards it. Instead, the government’s focus has been more on toilet construction.

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Making wi-fi facilities available in public places and commercial centres.
Status: There were 31,000 wi-fi hotspots in India in 2016. In October 2017, the government announced it would set up 7.5 lakh public internet hotspots across the country by the end of 2018. Data on the progress of this work is not available.

Building “quality integrated public transport systems”, discouraging use of private vehicles.
Status: The quality of public bus transport has not improved in the past five years. In September, Union transport secretary YS Malik acknowledged that India needs at least 30 lakh public transport buses but has barely 2.8 lakh buses run by state agencies. Not much has been done to discourage the use of private transport. In Mumbai, for example, metro lines are being laid for public transport but the Maharashtra government’s push for the Rs 12,700-crore coastal road is likely to encourage greater use of private vehicles.

Supporters of the BJP participate in a celebration rally ahead of Narendra Modi's swearing-in in May 2014. Photo credit: Reuters

Neo-middle class

Providing medical insurance and quality healthcare services.
The Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana under Ayushman Bharat was launched in September 2018 to provide an annual health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh per family for the poorest 40% of India’s population. However, the scheme does not cover the middle classes.

Providing middle-income housing.
The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana was launched in 2016 with rural and urban components. The urban component includes affordable housing projects, slum redevelopment and credit-linked subsidies to beneficiaries applying for home loans. The scheme aims to build 1.2 crore houses for the urban poor by 2022. But three years into the programme, only 18% of the sanctioned urban homes have been completed.

Building efficient public transport systems.
From 2014 to 2018, the government spent Rs 3.82 lakh crore on railway infrastructure throughout the country, focusing on laying additional rail lines along busy routes and upgrading older lines. However, the government’s most publicised railway project is the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train, which will not benefit the neo-middle class. The project is currently mired in controversy over land acquisition in Gujarat and Maharashtra. The quality of bus transport has not improved either, as explained above.

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