Unemployment has Snowballed into A Major Poll Issue


After four rounds of polling, there is not a single credible voice that confidently argues that Modi wave still prevails.  Waves come and waves go but they go away for definite reasons. Anti-incumbency is no fickle-minded mood change. Once the elections are over, political analysts would split their hair over what made the Modi magic vanish. But the poll observers on the ground are already left with no doubt that the jobs crisis has caused maximum damage to Modi’s prospects in 70% of the seats where polling is over.

Some basic problems like poverty and agrarian crises are chronic ones and not all of them turn into poll issues all the time in all elections. Their transformation into election issues that can swing a countable percentage of votes one way or other is conjunctural. While addressing one of her election rallies in UP, when the Congress Party’s charismatic star campaigner Priyanka Gandhi declared that in the five years of Modi’s rule 5 million jobs were lost, tens of thousands who had gathered stood up spontaneously and roared in one voice Modi Hatao! The message has obviously sunk well into the popular mind that Modi’s stupid demonetisation and a ham-handed GST had precipitated a very acute crisis of job losses. Voters are politically conscious enough to see that business is dull and jobs are not available as before. Elections only serve as good enough opportunities to turn this disappointment and anger into a change of political choices.

 It is not an urban jobs crisis alone, as data reveal the rural jobs crisis is no less severe. The job-crisis for women is acute but it is not a one-sided affair across the gender divide, and men, mostly the main bread-winners in the families, suffer an equally crippling employment crisis as well. The statistics put out even by the official agencies show that the jobs crisis among the youth is mind-boggling. The jobs crisis among the educated might be grave but what is shocking is that the low-skilled millions in informal India are also coming under a creeping employment problem. In short, it is a generalised jobs crisis.

When the foremost voice of opposition in a democracy like Ms.Priyanka Gandhi comes out with a startling revelation that Modi massacred 5 million jobs in five years, not a single leader of stature in the ruling establishment dares to step out to challenge it. The same finding by the meticulously researched State of the Working India Report 2019 of the eminent Azim Premji University had barely been out a couple of days earlier. Based on CMIE’s large-sample surveys, the report showed that five million people lost their jobs between 2016 and 2018, coinciding with the demonetisation of November 2016 and introduction of GST in July 2017. Naturally, no Jaitleys or Shushmas could dare to counter Priyanka. Silence and subterfuges cannot check shifting preferences of the voters over the burning employment question.

The writing on the wall on the employment issue was clear to Modi himself. That was why he stooped down too low to the cheap level of withholding NSSO’s Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2017–18 in January 2019, which led to the resignation of two eminent academics from the National Statistical Commission. The PLFS report said that under Modi unemployment had hit a 45-year high of 6.1%. It might look a small number. But going by the 2018 figure of 466 million persons in the Indian labour force, this small figure of 6.1% translates into a big unemployed army of 28.43 million people.

Unfortunately, it is a weakness of the otherwise rich English vocabulary that the term unemployment lacks precision and means different categories—those who are part of the labour force and ready for a job but who have never got one as well as those who were already having jobs but have lost them. Or, in other words, it stands for both lack of employment and job-losses. To compound the confusion, those who are never part of the labour force are also treated as unemployed in certain contexts. So figures sometime tend to obfuscate the gravity of the problem.

Why Modi lost his popularity among young voters? 30% of Young India is neither in jobs nor in education or training. If 23 million Indian youngsters apply for 89,400 jobs advertised by the Indian Railways, that gives the enormity of the problem of educated youth unemployment.

If labour force participation of women in India under Modi had fallen from 16.81% in 2016 to a miserable 10.97% by February 2019, the agony years of demonetization and GST, the thinking sections of the middle classes disgusted by Modi’s jumlas would naturally start wondering what sort of Shreshth Bharat he and his RSS are trying to build. Even among that 10% women who are coming into the workforce, one in every three women (as against one in every five men) in urban India in the 15–29 age-group were unemployed in 2017–18 as per the NSSO data, and these are mind-boggling figures indeed.

If a UNICEF study points out that a fifth of the graduates are unemployed and nearly 60% of them feel jobs-skill mismatch is the main reason for their low incomes, then that only speaks of the agony of the educated India.

Modi flaunts his Mudra, where 40% beneficiaries are supposed to be women and 33% SCs-STs-OBCs. At the end of his term, RBI raises an alarm that 53% of Mudra advances have become NPAs and 75% of the Mudra self-employment ventures have folded up. The figure is 80% for start-ups under Modi’s Start-Up India!

Modi’s loyal court statisticians and economists might claim that the overall labour force participation rate in India came down only marginally from 52.9% in 2011–12 to 50.4% in 2015–16. But the starker meaning of these figures is that around half of India still remains out of the workforce. Actually, Priyanka’s and Azim Premji University’s figures do not fully capture the full impact of job losses-- manufacturing jobs actually fell in absolute terms from 58.9 million in 2011–12 to 48.3 million in 2015–16, a whopping 10.6 million over a mere four-year period. Statistical jugglery is no answer to a profound livelihood crisis when the future of millions is bleak.

A desperate Modi Government could only come up with yet another subterfuge of citing inflated EPFO enrolment, to claim 7–10 million jobs were created in 2017–18. Only later it dawned upon many that these were not new jobs but new enrolment of those already in jobs for the previous 5 years. CMIE’s current survey in 2018, on the other hand, showed that 11 million people with jobs lost them in that very year.

BJP’s election manifesto waxes eloquent on 12 major themes and it is no surprise that employment creation is not one of them. It is really astonishing that a party running an incumbent government facing a burning employment question comes out with a poll manifesto that doesn’t offer a single specific promise on job creation. In any case, Modi promised to create 2 crore jobs every year in 2014 and this unmet promise itself has robbed the BJP manifesto of 2019 of any credibility. It is not without reason that the crowds go into raptures when Priyanka calls Modi ‘Pradhan Prachar Mantri’ and Rahul describes his government as Jumlebaji Sarkar. Rahul’s Congress poll manifesto, divided into five themes on the other hand, begins with Kaam as the foremost theme and makes very specific promises of filling 4 lakh Central government vacancies by March 2020, creating 10 lakh seva mitra posts in localbodies, and generating 1 crore employment through waterbodies restoration and wasteland generation. People do see that this is the party that ushered in some form of right to employment and employment guarantee to Bharat, the rural India, and it is precisely this scheme that Modi scuttled. The choices are clear.

India eagerly awaits the results on 23 May to see the burning employment question making Modi jobless! Well, Modi will then be free to go and sell his pakodas!

Courtesy: IPA

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May 3, 2019

B.Sivaraman [email protected]

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