The Modi government has delayed the release of the Labour Bureau’s survey on the number of jobs generated under the Micro Units Development & Refinance Agency (Mudra) scheme, The Indian Express reported on Thursday. It will only be made public after the Lok Sabha elections.

Mudra is one of the Modi government’s flagship schemes, geared to helping small businesses get credit. It is worrying that the government feels the need to hide the data about jobs created by this mega scheme.

This is part of a pattern: before this, the Modi government had sought to conceal two other reports on India’s employment numbers. The National Sample Survey Office’s periodic Labour Force Survey Report for 2017-’18 was suppressed, as was the Labour Bureau’s sixth annual employment-unemployment survey.

The reason for this opacity is not hard to see: India is facing a major jobs crisis.

India would need to create 1.3 million jobs every month just to stay where it is and keep its employment rate constant.

The gargantuan size of that number is just the tip of the iceberg. Far from creating 1.3 million jobs every month, India is actually losing jobs. The average employment number for 2017 was 406.5 million. This fell to 402.1 million in 2018. As a result, India’s unemployment rate stood at a 45-year high in 2017-’18.

Moreover, there seems no light at the end of the tunnel. Investment in Indian industry is falling precipitously. According to data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, the value of new investment proposals fell from Rs 25 trillion in 2010-’11 to Rs 11 trillion in 2017-’18.

Given the size of the problem, India’s politicians should be working frantically to create new jobs. However, that does not seem to be happening. In fact, with measures like the new Goods and Services tax and demonetisation, Union government policy is actually causing job losses.

Unfortunately, the government has been attempting to deflect attention from the jobs crisis by trying to make emotive issues such as nationalism the focus of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Over the past few weeks, many ruling party politicians have latched onto the recent skirmishes with Pakistan and the conflict in Kashmir to avoid discussions about the fundamental issue of economic hardship.

In spite of this, in a survey conducted on March 7, ten days after India and Pakistan bombed each other, respondents said that unemployment was the most important electoral issue for them, far ahead of terrorism.

Elections for any democracy is a time for politicians to take stock and go to the people for guidance on the shape and direction of government policy. During the upcoming elections, politicians would do well to put the jobs crisis high on their agendas and find ways to fix it.

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The Modi Years: Did Indians find jobs or lose them?