Two months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had ordered ‘notebandi’, I had visited Johra, a small village in Western Uttar Pradesh, 50 km from Delhi, to report the impact of major policy change on lives of people. The men, mostly artisans and small-time vendors, the womenfolk, who worked as labours in fields and some enterprising ones who stitched trousers for an apparel manufacturing unit, had become jobless overnight.
Two years later, India’s economic growth has suffered a notch and is not yet stable by global standards, but in Johra, life remains unchanged. The rampant joblessness haunts its people, men, women and children look emaciated and pale, apparently due to poor health and low nutrition intake. Poverty levels have increased and so has the interest on the Rs 30,000 loan almost all 150 families had taken from a chit fund company, to fund their small businesses.
The artisans are jobless or are paid less for the work they do because city people, who would employ them, are no longer spending on luxuries and big parties.
Johra’s story stands in contrast to the ‘Robust India’ story presented by Modi too often on global platforms and big ticket events and, ironically, closer to PM’s pakora-selling proposition that he had made in a television interview. Modi had wanted his critics, who are blaming him for leading India into a jobless growth, to consider pakora selling as a gainful employment.
Though experts don’t consider selling pakoras on roadside is a great job nor do millions of young people dream of becoming millionaires by selling the fried snack. Modi’s currency swap interregnum had dealt a major blow to even the informal economy, of which pakora selling in a part of. On December 8, when Modi arbitrarily suspended all currency without making arrangements to replace it soon, the informal sector, that as per estimates constitutes about 70-80% of jobs in India, was hit very hard; the economy is yet to recover from it.
Though people had hit back to Modi on the social media for his pakora jibe, even the government agencies like NITI Aayog would not consider pakora selling as a job. According to the vision document of the NITI Aayog released last year, while unemployment remains a serious concern, India’s underemployment is chronic and poses a bigger challenge to policymakers. The government’s labour ministry has acknowledged the sharp decline of jobs in the labour market and since constituted a task force to find a way out of it.
The domestic rating agency Care Ratings has said in October that India’s employment generation has not kept pace with GDP expansion. The report said it was a serious concern and suggested that government go for "proactive measures."
Modi refuses to take blame for doubling the unemployment rate during his tenure and instead resorts to bluster and Congress bashing in Parliament and election rallies forgetting the fact that his victory in 2014 was due to huge support the youth had given him for his promise of job creation.
As per estimates, India needs to create jobs for about 1.3crore youth who enter job market each year. As against this, for past three years only 4.3 lakh jobs are being created per year. The Hindu newspaper says at this rate India’s all jobless people would have to wait for 40 years. This is hypothetical situation not taking into consideration the annual growth of jobless persons.
As against this bleak scenario, Modi had claimed he would create one crore jobs per year.
The job crunch has been the worst in the manufacturing sector, which had suffered the worst fate due to the ‘notebandi’ and setback to informal sector supporting it. Modi would get wiser to have a look at the vision document released by the NITI Aayog last year. This lists underemployment – pakora selling etc. – as India’s more serious and chronic problem.
Modi’s policies have hit women the most as they are the first to be fired in case of downsizing of companies or industries. The unemployment rate of women in India has shot up in 2015-16 to 8.7 per cent as compared to 4.3 per cent for men, as per the report of Labour Bureau.
As her annual employment-unemployment survey India has about, about 77 per cent of the households with no regular wage earning or salaried member. The survey states that unemployment rate has in 2016-17 been estimated to be 13.2 per cent. The figure stood at 4.9 per cent in 2013-14, 4.7 per cent (2012-13), 3.8 per cent (2011-12) and 9.3 per cent (2009-10).
Instead of working with policymakers and sending down a sense of urgency, Modi has decided to address this with his characteristic propaganda and diversionary tactics. In the Gujarat elections, where joblessness was an issue, he choose to raise emotional issues, sell brazen lies about his opponent (for which his finance minister Arun Jaitley later apologized in parliament) and blame the Congress and more specifically the Nehru-Gandhi family for all the ills of India.
His ‘Make in India’ is a sham as nothing worthwhile has been achieved through it so far. His skill India slogans is able to get youth out of villages for training for small time skilled jobs but they run away to their homes finding that with low wages they will not be able to sustain in big cities where all the jobs are.
As against this, the world is preparing for a situation where artificial intelligence will replace humans in manufacturing; banks will turn into virtual spaces. This would render India’s economic model redundant. Are we prepared for this? Unfortunately, Modi’s vision remains focused on the past –when Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel were sincerely shaping a new and secular India. Thanks to their vision, we, the people of all faiths are one and multitudes of cultures thrive in this country. One wonders what legacy Modi will leave after him.
(Published on 12th February 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 07)