The middle class, which supported the PPP in 1950 and was heavily represented in its leadership, began to divide on the basis of the ethno-political developments after 1955. This division and consolidation matured only in the early 1960s. During this process Burnham saw the importance of the middle class, particularly the African middle class. He courted the United Democratic Party, which was the political expression of the League of Coloured People and eventually merged with it. According to some critics of the PPP, Jagan signaled the need for a similar outreach in his 1954 Congress speech. If this is so then it is evidence that both leaders saw the importance of capturing the support of the middle class, or rather, that section of the middle class which they expected to be sympathetic.
These leaders were not mistaken as to the importance of support by the middle class. The African middle class, mainly concentrated in the bureaucracy, played an important role in giving institutional support and strength to the PNC’s campaign to remove the PPP government between 1962 and 1964, itself led by middle class militants. Similarly the Indian middle class, in the small business sector and some sections of the bureaucracy such as the teaching profession, remained grudgingly and sometimes fearfully, loyal to the PPP.
Between 1977 and 1980 dramatic developments occurred in Guyana which affected the relations between the African middle class and the PNC. The economy began to deteriorate in spectacular fashion. The WPA and Walter Rodney began to make a huge political impact. The struggle against the referendum created broad unity of courageous sections the middle class, later regrouping under GUARD. Both the PPP and WPA came out with separate proposals calling for unity of all political forces including the PNC. There were fears about the undemocratic imposition of a new constitution. Then Dr. Rodney was tragically assassinated.
The fact that the referendum attracted a voter turnout of only 15 percent and the elections of 1980 not much more, showed that the African middle class as well as a wider section of the PNC’s support, was no longer enthusiastic. This support returned in 1992 in a show of ethnic solidarity in the face of the looming loss of the elections to the PPP.
However, for the first time the PNC’s middle class support migrated to another political party in 2006. The AFC, led by Raphael Trotman, secured 8 percent of the votes. The PNC, which recorded an historic low of 34 percent, a loss of 6 percent, was led by Robert Corbin with whom, it had been alleged, the African middle class was not enamoured. The PNC’s vote returned in 2011 upon the change of leadership to David Granger. The AFC, which lost the African middle class support in 2011, Khemraj Ramjattan being the new leader, tapped into the dissatisfaction of the PPP’s working class base and kept ahead of the game with 10 percent leaving the PPP with 48 percent, a loss of 6 percent. While it was its working class supporters that delivered the blow, its middle class support remained intact.
The lesson here is that whether Indian or African, the middle class would be prepared to punish its party if it is recalcitrant according to its assessment. The AFC provided a home for the African middle class in 2006. The question is whether the Indian middle class will potentially see the AFC as a home in 2015 if it harbours dissatisfaction for the PPP.
The PPP would face enormous challenges in retaining this vote. The entire middle class wants to see overall economic progress which will ensure growth in business and the professions. This is not happening and the prospects are not promising. Growth is too slow. Projects are stalled. Investors may be hesitant. Political gridlock reigns. The Party now appears weak because it cannot move its agenda forward. Its only message will be negative – the Opposition is responsible. The Indian middle class will be looking for a positive message – how can the country move forward if the results of the 2015 elections are the same or similar. The PPP will never acknowledge that the election results could be the same, which many observers among the Indian middle class believe is likely, so it cannot offer a realistic way forward.
The leadership of the PPP has been denuded and cleansed of all those who could inspire its middle class supporters, or give them a sense of security, hope or comfort, while retaining their working class credentials. It has no leader of credibility that it can symbolically offer, or deploy to mobilize this vote. This may not have been important before but it is important now. The PPP will know why it is important if it has its ears to the ground and, importantly, if it listens and to the right voices.
Also, the Indian middle class may not see the withholding of its vote from the PPP as necessarily opening the door for a return to exclusive power by the PNC. By its vote in 2011 its working class supporters sent a message to the PPP that it wanted a coalition arrangement. The PPP ignored this message. The Indian middle class, which may not be seeing any other way forward to this goal and to the protection and development of its and the nation’s interests, could conclude that this message needs re-emphasizing.