Sometimes, social media memes have an uncanny knack of depicting the popular narrative. On the day Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi proudly announced that he would play Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an eponymous biopic, Twitterati sardonically captioned it as “Modi’s job creation scheme for the unemployed”.
Frankly, I thought that deserved a million salutations for its acerbic wit, but the joke was less on the virtually invisible Oberoi on the multiplex screens than on the alarming escalation in joblessness in India. The latter has obliterated the ginormous demographic dividend advantage we marketed globally some time ago. We are currently staring at a despondent situation pregnant with hopelessness.
Modi’s abrupt announcement of 10% job reservation for the general category must be assessed in the context of this dismal economic scenario. Pressing the panic buttons after state election defeats in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Modi belatedly recognised that India’s youth are feeling profusely betrayed. But his hasty, unplanned, myopic and thoughtless reservation scheme (95% of Indians earning less than ₹8 lakh per annum are now economically backward according to the new definition) is a manifestation of brazen politicking and has been timed keeping the general elections in mind. Already, it is being put through a judicial stress test.
There are no jobs, but Modi is selling the phantasmagoric dream of reservations. It is like putting the cart before the horse.
Numbers don’t lie, is an aphorism. Under the Modi government that idiomatic expression has become apocryphal; numbers do lie. The government has not released official Labour Bureau data on job creation for the last two years, because it paints an abominable picture, far from flattering. Transparency has been draped in a dark coffin and laid to rest.
We then had this circumspectly camouflaged attempt to hoodwink Indians through dubious research of some private entities that propped up EPFO data (Employees Provident Fund Organisation) claiming that 7 million jobs were created. It was utter hogwash.
The entire government machinery and BJP spokespersons were following the Supreme Leader’s Commandment: “Tell the people, job creation is not the problem. The only snag is that the government has not captured job data.”
Fact is, there was an increase in the number of micro small-units that registered for GST once it became mandatory, after they had reached the threshold number of 20 people. A desperate government unwilling to concede the reality of a job epidemic treated the entire workforce of the new entity in EPFO as “fresh jobs”, when it may have been just an incremental nominal number.
The EPFO spin was an embarrassing hatchet job. Thus, the Modi Sarkar has been living under delusions of grandeur, totally oblivious of the granular facts. They forgot that Jats (Haryana), Patidars (Gujarat) and Marathas (Maharashtra) have been protesting on the streets for a better deal.
It is elementary developmental economics that if there is GDP growth, there ought to be a reasonably proportionate job expansion too. Firstly, the GDP data itself was ingeniously manipulated by changing the base year to 2011-12 to create this dazzling notion of the “world’s fastest growing economy”.
At the ground level, however, it was reality bites. Gross fixed capital formation fell from 34% in 2011-12 to 29% by 2017-18, despite declining repo rates and a strong world economy. The bulk of new job creation happens in the manufacturing sector, which has seen anaemic traction over the last few years.
In fact, the latest data shows factory production growth in November 2018 falling to a 17-month low at just 0.5%, with manufacturing sliding into a negative growth rate ( -0.4%). Even capital goods and consumer durables have seen contraction. It is hardly surprising that in the absence of private capital investment, job growth has plateaued. Correction, it has actually declined, going by the latest data released by Center of Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).
Under Modi, forget jobless growth, we are experiencing seismic job-loss growth, as in 2018, 11 million Indians lost jobs. This is a cataclysmic shock to the Indian economy. At 7.4% unemployment rate, which is the highest in 4 years, the demographic dividend story is totally unsustainable. Hence, the 10% reservations constitutional amendment introduced with extraordinary alacrity to create a headline diversion.
Because Modi promised Young India 100 million jobs by the end of 5 years, but has been such a spectacular disaster that he has not even accomplished 1% of that target.
Reports suggest there are 24 lakh government jobs that remain vacant (possibly the figure includes jobs with state governments, PSUs and armed forces), while the government remains in blissful stupefaction.
PhD’s, doctors, engineers and MBA’s are applying for clerical jobs in Railways, Police Services, etc., settling for low wages as they have no alternative. The informal economy has been brutally annihilated post the doltish Demonetisation. The impact of that irrational political stunt is still being felt by the rural hinterland. The ham-handed execution of GST only accentuated problems further. For the Indian economy, that was a double whammy.
Modi once nonchalantly dismissed the job crisis by drawing an allegory of frying pakodas. It was in bad taste. Some BJP leaders recommended milking of cows and opening paan (betel-leaves) shops as viable options. It was like adding insult to injury.
But the people of India have an ingrained native intelligence. Demonetisation fooled them once. BJP gloated, before getting deflated in the last state elections. In May 2019, Modi might just experience first-hand what it feels to be jobless.