The Big Story: Frittered opportunities

Can pakodas, Hindi for deep-fried fritters, help India, the world’s seventh-largest economy, dig itself out of a hole? The prime minister certainly thinks so. On January 26, Narendra Modi argued that contrary to the data, India was doing fine when it came to generating employment. He pointed to a pakoda seller, whose livelihoods fall outside the columns of official employment statistics. “The truth is,” said Modi, “massive number of people are being employed”.

To argue that already-existing informal jobs are an example of employment creation was a logical stretch. Yet, when this was pointed out, the Bharatiya Janata Party hid behind rhetoric: everyone questioning the lack of jobs growth was somehow insulting pakodawalahs. This strategy was repeated in the Rajya Sabha on Monday as the BJP president Amit Shah took up the pakoda point in his maiden parliamentary speech. “Selling pakodas is not something to be ashamed of,” said Shah. “Someone who sells pakodas today, his progeny can become entrepreneurs tomorrow. Today a son of chaiwala is the PM of this nation. You cannot compare the self-employed with beggars.”

The point about dignity of labour is well taken. However, India’s ruling party is intentionally avoiding the issue of lack of job growth. The BJP seems to be getting caught up in a semantic game over pakodas even as India fritters away its economic dividend.

The BJP’s attempt to steer the conversation away from cold statistics to political rhetoric around pakodas is understandable given that the numbers do not look good. In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Modi had promised he would create one crore jobs. Yet, the unemployment rate has actually seen a slight increase since the BJP took office. Between April and December 2016, a nine-month period, 2.3 lakh jobs were created across eight key sectors.

Not only is this far short of Narendra Modi’s jobs promise, it falls alarming short of the number of new job seekers: after all, 10 lakh Indians enter the job market every month. If the present is bad, the future looks worse. India is unable to train its people and millions of people entering its workforce every year are not employable. In 2017, the Modi government abandoned its plan to train 500 million people by 2022. Before this, the Union government had regularly missed its skill-training targets.

To make matters worse, private investment continues to decline. Without creating new capacity, industry wwill be unable to create new jobs. Add to this the cherry on the cake: shock measures like demonetisation and the new Goods and Services Tax, which further hit businesses even as they were already limping.

Clearly then, the situation is dire and the BJP needs to recognise the gravity of the crisis and work to fix it, rather than deflect attention using pakoda rhetoric.

The Big Scroll

  • No dividend here: The slowdown in jobs shows that India is headed for demographic disaster, writes Devangshu Datta.
  • India’s engineering graduates have loans to pay but no jobs – so who is clearing their debt, asks Shreya Roy Chowdhury.
  • Demonetisation and GST led to massive job and revenue losses, reports Mayank Jain.

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  • Interfaith relationships: The brutal murder of Ankit Saxena in Delhi opens up questions about female choice as well as Indian secularism, writes Teesta Setalvad in the Indian Express.
  • Kasganj is a metaphor for the emerging everydayness of riot-induced violence, writes Shiv Visvanathan in the Hindu.
  • Union Budget 2018: The new tax on long term capital gains is simply a case of opportunism wrapped within principle, argues Bobby Parikh in Bloomberg Quint.


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