India Wants Jobs, Not Jumlas

Narendra Modi has now been India’s Prime Minister for three full years. In these three years, the BJP has managed to win several Assembly elections, and the party is currently in power in a record number of Indian states. Where it has failed to win the elections, it has still usurped power through defections. In terms of power, the BJP’s domination in India has never been so complete in the past. The Sangh brigade is making the fullest possible use of this juncture to unfurl and inflict its fascist agenda. A person like Yogi Adityanath, a habitual practitioner of hate speech, a key accused in cases of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh and the chief architect of a private brigade of thugs, has been made the Chief Minister of India’s most populous state. And across the country, BJP leaders and supporters are busy beating up and killing people in the name of protecting the cow.

For the power-drunk ruling dispensation, this is obviously celebration time. Modi calls it the foundation of ‘New India’. But for millions of Indians, the situation could not be any grimmer. It is not just because of the growing assault on the constitutional liberties of the Indian people and the vicious climate of communal polarisation and hate engulfing our social existence; it is also because of the spectre of growing economic insecurity and uncertainty that has now begun to haunt much of urban India. Together with the deepening agrarian crisis that has been devastating rural India for nearly two decades now, joblessness is fast assuming endemic proportions across the length and breadth of India. Jobs did not grow even in the first decade of the present century when the Indian economy otherwise registered impressive overall growth. Now that the growth rate itself has fallen drastically, joblessness has further aggravated. Six months of demonetisation have only compounded the problem by disrupting the supply-and-production chain in many industries.

This joblessness is however no longer confined to the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. It is now a grim reality across the service sector, including the IT-driven echelons of the economy which were lately the most promising provider of jobs. Ironically, the other day even as Narendra Modi sought to regale his audience with his trusted IT+IT=IT (Information Technology+Indian Talent=India Tomorrow) rhetoric, the business newspapers could not suppress the bad news emanating from India’s major IT companies. A veritable pink slip revolution has hit the IT sector, with well known companies going on a major workforce reduction campaign. And this is no one-off reduction, we now hear that 2 lakh IT engineers will annually lose jobs for the next three years. The layoffs are partly triggered by technology, with growing automation further reducing the labour-absorption rate, but perhaps a more crucial factor is the sweeping wave of protectionism in advanced capitalist countries like the US, UK and Australia that used to outsource low-paid jobs to Indian IT companies.

The managers of the Niti Aayog – the new avatar of the erstwhile Planning Commission – are trying their best to downplay the job crisis. According to them, much of this unemployment is actually ‘voluntary’ in nature. In other words, there are jobs, but aspirational young Indians have become fussy about wages and working conditions and promotional avenues, and so they often prefer to wait to get jobs suited to their aspirations rather than accepting whatever comes their way. This wishful explanation flies in the face of the grim reality of the big IT layoffs. Instead of trivialising unemployment as a voluntary exercise of choice by the job-seeking educated youth, the government must acknowledge the reality and come up with actual action plans to come out of this crisis. We have had enough of jumlas, the reality is when it comes to jobs, the sum total of all the high sounding Modi missions like ‘Make in India’, ‘Skill India’, ‘Start up India’ and ‘Digital India’ appears to be a big zero.

Indeed, what we face in India is not just unemployment and underemployment – it is employment without any job or social security, and devoid of necessary provisions of workplace safety, and dignity and rights that must accrue to the workers. According to the Government of India’s own Employment and Unemployment Survey (2013-14), more than 400 million of India’s 475 million strong workforce have little job security or legal protection. Contractual work is becoming the dominant mode of employment, but 66% of India’s contract workers actually do not have a written job contract. Not more than 16.5% of Indian workers earn a regular wage or salary, and three in every four households (78%) surveyed had no one earning a regular wage or salary. And the Prime Minister of such a country is busy delivering jumlas and the economists employed by the government wax eloquent about ‘voluntary unemployment’!

Unemployment is of course a potent political weapon in the hands of the rulers. They are busy harnessing the anger and frustration of the jobless as fuel for their ‘divide and rule’ strategy. Unemployment swells the ranks of the Gau Gundas (cow vigilantes) and the sundry other squads that are now increasingly policing the Indian streets. For those with a stake in people’s welfare and democracy, the question of jobs for all could not therefore be more urgent. Three years in power as Modi talks about his future plans and bombards us with more jumlas in the name of ‘New India’ or ‘India Tomorrow’, we must tell him loud and clear that the time for rhetoric is over. It is now time to talk about the results and India cannot tolerate the disastrous combination of agrarian crisis and jobless growth any more.