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Beyond Pakodanomics: In Karnataka, ‘vote for jobs’ movement is a test for Congress, BJP, JD(S)

By Maitreyee Boruah
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    Bengaluru, March 30: Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked Indians to sell pakodas (fritters) to earn their livelihood early this year, the discourse on growing unemployment rate across the country did not gain momentum. The PM's statement during a television interview in January, where he suggested that selling pakodas on streets is also a job, touched a raw nerve of millions of people looking for employment opportunities.

    This is what the PM said in his now infamous television interview: "If a person selling pakodas (snacks) earns Rs 200 at the end of the day, will it be considered employment or not?"

    meeting

    While a large number of experts and economists slammed Modi for his "insensitive" remark, a group of youngsters in Bengaluru, Karnataka hosted the nation's first "pakoda" protest where they sold fritters outside the BJP's office in the city on January 27.

    Thereafter, similar protests were held in several parts of the country. The protest in Bengaluru was the brainchild of a forum called the Karnataka for Employment (KFE), which since last year has started a campaign called "vote for jobs" in the run-up to the Karnataka Assembly elections 2018. On Tuesday, the Election Commission announced the polling and counting dates for the state elections. The state will vote on May 12 and the counting will take place on May 15. The political parties will be contesting elections in 224 seats in Karnataka.

    On August 19, 2017, the members of the forum met the representatives of the three main political parties--the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S))--to tell them that if they want votes in the upcoming elections then they have to promise jobs in their respective manifestos.

    While the Congress heard them well and agreed to include their demands in the manifesto, both the JD(S) and the BJP gave them a cold shoulder. However, later after repeated meetings, both the BJP and JD(S) too have agreed to consider their demands. On February 18, the forum released a booklet titled, Yuvajanara Pranaalike Karnataka 2018 (Youth manifesto of Karnataka 2018).

    The booklet in detail looks into the job crisis issue in the state and the country and how it can be addressed. The booklet has been prepared by the likes of KP Suresh (noted agriculturalist and columnist), Mahesh (a well-known farmer) and Amit Basole (professor of Economics at the Azim Premji University, Bengaluru) and several team members of the KFE, among others.

    Talking about the movement, which claims to have the support of youths, contractual workers and farmers from all the 224 Karnataka constituencies, Mutturaj, convener of the KFE, told OneIndia that "it is a political movement to pressurise the three main political parties of the state to promise jobs for unemployed and underemployed people".

    "Our campaign will support only those parties which will promise jobs if elected to power," added Mutturaj (who only writes his first name). Mutturaj's colleague from the forum, Rajshekhar Akki, said that the campaign is very powerful as it has the support of jobless youths, farmers and contractual workers.

    The forum has conducted conventions in all the 224 constituencies in the state. "We have a huge support among the contractual workers in the state. There are around 2 lakh contractual workers in 40 government departments in the state. We have the support of all of them, including their families and friends. That makes up at least 10 lakh votes. Thus political parties can't ignore us easily," stressed Akki.

    pakoda protest

    Who is an employed person?

    There are three main criteria to consider a person as employed: a) minimum wage to live a dignified life, b) job security and c) facilities like provident fund, employees' state insurance, maternity leave and sick leave, among others.

    Jobs, reality and myth in Karnataka

    According to the 2015-16 Economic Survey of Karnataka, the unemployment rate in Karnataka--urban and rural combined--stands at 1.7 per cent, which is less than half the national rate of 3.4 per cent. In Karnataka, there are around 1.4 crore unemployed and underemployed people. Underemployed people are those who are mostly working as contractual workers and have no job guarantee.

    Karnataka has a population of around 6.68 crores. Out of it, 4.96 crore people are registered voters, as per the EC. "If all the unemployed and underemployed people vote then it would have a huge impact on the elections," said Mutturaj.

    While the Siddaramaiah government takes great pride in providing 15 lakh jobs in the last five years, but it promised to give 50 lakh jobs in five years back in 2013. Figures say every year at least eight lakh people join the job market in Karnataka. Experts say the Congress government in the state is yet to furnish evidence to prove that it has actually provided 15 lakh jobs.

    Jobs: How Modi, Siddaramaiah fare?

    To understand the Karnataka's job scenario, which is better than the national statistics, we need to look into the Modi government's failed promises. In 2013, Modi promised one crore jobs every year for the country's youth if the BJP comes to power at the Centre. The big Modi promise left everyone disappointed as job scenario in the country is anything but "grim".

    In fact, the rate of unemployment has increased from 3.8 per cent in 2011-12 to 5 per cent in 2015-16. According to an International Labour Organisation (ILO) report, unemployment in India will increase from 17.7 million in 2016 to 18 million in 2018.

    Why contractual workers are victims of government apathy

    Since the campaign closely works with contractual workers, it wants the government to regularise all of them. In 2012, the then BJP government agreed to regularise the jobs of 23,000 people in Karnataka. The forum wants the new government in Karnataka to regularise the jobs of at least 17,000 guest teachers and other contractual workers.

    What Congress, BJP and JD(S) have to say about the campaign?

    It was the Congress which immediately agreed to include all the demands of the KFE in its manifesto. Dinesh Gundu Rao, working president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), said that the party stands for jobs for all. "We are ready to take the suggestions of one and all to generate employment opportunities for all," said Rao.

    The JD(S) too has promised to include all the suggestions of the KFE in its manifesto. However, it was the BJP which was initially unwilling to listen to the issues raised by the forum. In fact, once during their visit to the BJP office in Bengaluru, members of the KFE were detained by the police. Now, senior BJP leader Suresh Kumar is in talks with the forum members and has agreed to focus on jobs in the party manifesto "It will be foolish to ignore the demands of the forum. A job is a real issue. Any government can make or break over jobs," said a senior BJP leader.

    How to create one crore 50 lakh jobs in Karnataka

    The members of KFE say that the movement is not just a critique of the government policies. "We are contributing to society as well. Last year, we developed an app called--My Job--which provides regular updates on job openings in both the government and private sectors. The app also takes up issues related to education, recruitment, job security, self-employment and overall career development. Moreover, our manifesto is a guide to create one crore 50 lakh jobs in the next five years in Karnataka," said Akki.

    In the booklet, various measures have been suggested to address the job issue. Experts want both the state government and the Centre to focus on agriculture, health and education to create jobs and take the country to the path of growth. "If any government implements our suggestions, it can create one crore 50 lakh jobs in Karnataka in the next five years," said Akki.

    The adage of the movement is "unemployment is a social, not a personal problem. Decent, secure employment is a right. Unemployment free Karnataka can be a model for unemployment free India."

    The members of KFE said that they will continue with their movement even after the state elections. The next target of KFE is to create a pan-India movement to generate jobs before the big 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

    Karnataka Assembly Election dates
    Date of notification April 17
    Last date to file nominations April 24
    Last date to withdraw nominations April 27
    Date of polling May 12
    Date of counting May 15

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