The real crisis: A widening Bharat-India gap

Sandeep Bamzai

Even as agriculture’s contribution over the years has diminished, the emphasis on services has been overplayed. In many ways, services acquired an altogether new hue, becoming the hot button item in India’s economic march. But for India to provide basic employment and deal with rapid urbanisation and mass migration, it requires jobs for the legionnaires coming off the assembly line. Mass employment remains a distant chimera. The economy likened to a prisoner in captivity is shackled by its own growth, manacled and ferreted by no impetus on manufacturing and skilling despite a long line of promises. This widening gap between Bharat and India is resulting in a massive churn among the populace. That is why skilling or vocational development of this army of migrants is crucial. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, realising this, has emphasised on skill set development so that the labour force could move up the food chain. The budget allocation for ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship for 2017-18 is Rs 3,016 crores as against a budget estimate for 2016-17 of Rs 1,804 crores. The revised estimate for 2016-17 is Rs 2,173 crores. The total budgeted expenditure for employment generation, skill and livelihood in Budget 2017 is Rs 17,273 crores. However, there is categorical empirical evidence that this is not paying in spades on the ground; it is at best work in progress.
A never-ending mass migration from the rural hinterland in search of better economic prospects continues to put pressure on our urban agglomerates. More pertinently, the economic chasm between these people — the have nots and those residing in the urban centres, have mores — is leading to a clash of identities and cultures. A clash, which is still operating below the surface, is seeking a voice of its own. A voice which can turn into a flashpoint at any moment. At the core of the Naxal movement remains the fruits of economic liberalisation and how they have not percolated down. Economic and social dualism is threatening the fabric of Indian society. An upshot is the ever-rising crime graph, spilling over to bestial rapes and mob lynchings. Former Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia once told me that while the UPA has set up large safety nets in rural areas like the MGNREGA, National Rural Health Mission (NHM), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and now recently the Food Security Bill, the aspirations and ambitions of a critically large chunk of population have to be factored into policymaking. Sonia Gandhi’s European sensibilities drove this social welfare agenda. Mr Modi soon into his first term realised after being hit by the “suit boot ki sarkar” jibe that he needed to make a course correction, barring a handful of structural economic reforms, he too took a drastic left turn trying desperately to ape the UPA economic dole model. Social duality is not just worrisome for policy mavens and politicos, but increasingly disturbing for the Deep State as unemployment leads to schism and infraction. The Kashmir Valley crisis and the growing alienation of the youth is decidedly due to the lack of an Indian embrace and a distinct lack of job opportunities.
The situation is so alarming and precarious at the same time that masses of unemployed jump at every single opportunity. In March 2018, after a three-year lull, the Railway Recruitment Board put out nationwide advertisements for about 100,000 available posts, including trackmen, porters and electricians. Over 23 million people applied. This overwhelming response is not an aberration. A few weeks later, 200,000 Mumbai residents applied for 1,137 openings for constables, the most junior post in the Mumbai police. In 2015, Uttar Pradesh received 2.3 million applications for just 368 clerical jobs in its local government secretariat — 6,250 applicants per post. Those who applied for the posts, advertised in August, include 255 Ph.D. holders and 152,000 graduates. Earlier the same year, several people were injured in a stampede when thousands turned up to join the Indian Army in the southern city of Visakhapatnam. In what has now become a nationwide disconcerting phenomenon, in July last year, of the 300-plus applications that Malda Medical College received for the two Group D posts for laboratory attendant whose job profile is to handle dead bodies and organs in post-mortem section of anatomy classes, one out of four applicants is either doing a Ph.D. or already has an MPhil. Some candidates even have double MAs. Every third candidate is a graduate. Similarly in February 2017, lakhs of applicants, including Ph.D. degree holders, were ready to work at the posts of peon, orderly peon, darwan, farash, night guard and others in West Bengal. Graduates, postgraduates and even doctorate of philology (Ph.D.) holders were among the 25 lakh candidates who applied for Group D posts in the West Bengal government secretariat. The West Bengal Group-D Recruitment Board (WBGDRB) had invited applications online for recruitment of 6,000 Group D personnel in various categories.
ILO’s Indian Labour Migration Update 2018 points out that in India the overall proportion of informal workers in total employment (for example, unorganised sector workers plus informal workers in the organised sector) has remained relatively stable at around 92 per cent. Hence, a majority of the Indian workforce deals with some level of informality in their employment. Coupled with a national unemployment rate of 3.4 per cent in 2017-18, the opportunities to find formal employment with decent wages and job security are restricted. The demand destruction and layoffs in the informal sector as a result of demonetisation cannot be quantified or captured effectively, for this was the first time in years that India saw a reverse migration from urban centres to the rural hinterland.
New research emanating from the privately-run Azim Premji University shows that a growth rate of seven per cent is now leading to less than one per cent improvement in employment, while in the 1970s and ’80s an expansion of three per cent to four per cent was resulting in a much higher two per cent gain in jobs. The outcome is an unemployment rate that has hit five per cent in 2015, the highest in at least 20 years. The main reason for the worsening correlation between growth and jobs was a mismatch between skills and “good jobs”, according to researchers led by Amit Basole. The share of the so-called good jobs that broadly include formal employment with regular pay accounted for only 17 per cent of the country’s 467 million workforce. “Simply put, higher growth has raised aspirations but has failed to generate the kind of jobs that will allow people to fulfil those aspirations,” the researchers wrote in the report called State of Working India 2018. “This obviously points to the issue being not only one of job creation, but of the creation of decent and desirable jobs.” The jobs drought is severe and will hurt PM Modi’s re-election bid as more young and aspirational Gen-X voters join the ever-growing employment queues. The promises of 2014 remain unkept. “India’s employment situation and the state of its labour statistics are both subjects of national news. The performance of the present government on job creation is also expected to be a key issue in the upcoming general elections in 2019,” the researchers said.
The recent happenings in Gujarat, where a migrant was held responsible for a brutal rape, led to the targeting of migrants and a reverse migration of North Indian migrants. It is believed that Gujarat has a population of over six crores, of which around one crore are migrant labourers from UP, Bihar and other states. The first ramification of this xenophobia, around 5,000 workers have returned to their native states. Shailesh Patwari, president of the Gujarat Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said the state machinery and the Gujarat government are doing everything in their capacity to assure the safety of migrant workers and industrial establishments.
The Economic Survey of India 2017 estimates that the magnitude of inter-state migration in India was close to nine million annually between 2011 and 2016, while Census 2011 pegs the total number of internal migrants in the country (accounting for inter- and intra-state movement) at a staggering 139 million.
Successive governments at the Centre have failed to fulfil this mandate given to them by the people of India. How does one cut through the clutter of dualism? How do you give the people of this country, all the people of this country, their fundamental right of living with dignity? Economic and social duality is the single biggest concern for countries like India. Not only is it resulting in social upheaval and a spike in crime, but policymakers reckon that it is the single biggest hot button item. For this is the route to the real Bharat and India turning into conjoined twins. India has to live with economic duality. A lot of growth has been jobless and restricted to the top and middle of the pyramid.
It is the bottom of the pyramid which is looking for economic inclusion. Its absorption is vital for the well-being of this nation. Even as the rich get richer and the consumerist middle class gets fatter, the way forward is to bring the have-nots into the fold in some sort of time bound manner. Vast swathes of the country remain poor, undernourished and even malnourished. They need succour. The threat to India comes from the siege within. A siege still subterranean, but one that could pop up like a periscope from under the water and create a man-made tsunami. Politicians who understand this still ambivalent force are the ones who will surprise us in the years to come. India battles Bharat and Bharat jousts with India in this unceasing war. A war for economic inclusion. A war where every Indian has some semblance of dignity. A war which results in a livelihood for one and all. A war where the have nots have primacy over the have mores.
Commerce works on the principle of demand and supply. The supply from the conveyor belt is unending and infinite, and for the last four years it has got worse. That is why social unrest and disorder is seeing a spike as people take to crime to adjust to the new normal. The PM must be aware of how he has failed to deliver on his promise for jobs, jobs and more jobs. He will have to alleviate the woes of the youth if he is to return to power.