Jobless growth has claimed its first high profile victim. Union Minister for Skill Development Rajiv Pratap Rudy was shunted out for apparent non-performance but the problem is much deeper. Skilled or not, young people are finding it increasingly difficult to find new jobs and Rudy’s sacking is their first admission of failure. There is more to come.
Rudy has been replaced by Dharmendra Pradhan, Cabinet minister with additional charge of skill development and MoS Anantkumar Hegde, who has been in the news for his radical right-wing views and has also been accused of slapping doctors. Hegde may not be the poster boy for development but competence is not driving change in the current government.
Rudy’s exit has been graceful because he realises that venting out his emotions would have meant curtains on his political career but his response has been enough to highlight that the weight of non-performance on the economic front is beginning to raise questions inside the BJP. With a little over a year to go before campaigning begins for the next Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has not much to show in terms of achievements.
Rudy, speaking to NDTV, attributed his sacking to his inability to showcase his work before his boss. While there might be some truth in this, he raised an important question that should be answered by the government. "How can I create employment? My brief was to raise an employable workforce. Getting jobs to them was never envisaged in the brief given to me," he said.
So, what he is essentially saying is: his brief was to train people for jobs, he did. Don’t blame him if these young women and men are not able to find jobs. That would be the Finance Minister’s failure, he seemed to imply.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ascent to power was mainly driven by his promises to bring more jobs to the young and the restless. The promise was to speed up economic growth and bring in at least one crore new jobs to the people. Three years into his term, he has failed spectacularly as job growth has hit an eight-year low.
“Cold statistics from the government's Labour Bureau show that job growth plummeted in key sectors to its lowest levels in eight years in calendar years 2015 and 2016 at 1.55 lakh and 2.31 lakh, respectively, compared with a high of over 10 lakh new jobs created in 2009 when the Manmohan Singh-led UPA was in office,” The Telegraph had reported.
Replacing the Finance Minister at this stage would have punctured any pretence that the economy is doing well. Since the Prime Minister is high on action and does not consider deep thought to be too much of a virtue, most of the blame would have fallen on the Prime Minister’s shoulder as well.
This is not to say that Mr Rudy did a spectacular job as the Minister for Skill Development. The initial target was to train 50 crore young Indians by 2022 but the scheme has been watered down. The Ministry had sought ₹8,062 crore for 2016-17 but had to settle for roughly a fourth of the amount at ₹1,804 crore.
“We don’t want to chase any number. Whether it is 150 million by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and 350 million by ministries — we are delinking it, not attaching any number,” the Hindustan Times quoted Rajesh Aggarwal, director-general of training and a joint secretary in the skills ministry in June this year.
The Skill Development initiative of the Modi government has been more or less like the rest of the initiatives taken up by the Modi government. Optics are created with a massive hype when the scheme is launched but outcomes come out to disappoint. The story has been played several times over and the government is now running out of new tricks.
The BJP’s decision to push Rudy out may also be seen in the broader political context. Following the tie-up with Nitish Kumar, the BJP is a little more confident of doing well in Bihar and hence wanted to shift focus to Karnataka where the party is looking shaky.
The new MoS leaves behind a trail of vitriolic hate tweets and that seems to be his prime skill. As Karnataka goes into election season, the new Mantri would be heard more and more in the national media, making statements which would aim to polarise and that may be politically more useful than skilling or generating employment.