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PM Modi Under Fire as Rising Costs Put Squeeze on 'Middle India'

158 Days ago
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MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: Sharp rises in education and healthcare costs in the last two years have hit India's burgeoning middle class hard, denting Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity among the relatively well-off ahead of a series of state elections.Price increases for services deemed a luxury for most Indians could also complicate the central bank's plans to cut borrowing costs, with decades of low investment in schools and hospitals meaning they will remain expensive for some time."Spending on my son's education and medicine for the family has gone up sharply," said Sambuddha Banerjee, a 47-year-old IT professional, who works for local government in Kolkata."The government also cut fuel subsidies and tried to impose taxes on our pension savings. This is not acceptable."Banerjee is thinking twice about voting for Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at elections scheduled for 2019.That view is far from universal, but is already on the radar of a government that swept to power in 2014 with promises of economic reforms and pro-business policies that appealed to aspirational Indians living in big towns and cities.Modi has already seen support among the huge agriculture sector ebb following several crop failures, so appeasing the middle class, which accounts for about a quarter of the 1.3 billion population, looks increasingly important."Rising prices of commodities and services which have a higher weight in the consumption basket of middle class households is an issue that cannot be ignored," said a senior finance ministry official."This is a supply side issue and can't be addressed in the short term," he added.To ease some pressure on middle income earners, the government plans to hike salaries of its nearly 10 million employees by 24 percent this year.

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