New Delhi, Jan 31: India: Where are the jobs, Mr Prime Minister?
Narendra Modi: Go sell pakodas (country's favourite snacks).
Is this a joke? No, this is the (pakoda) conversation India is having over jobs (not over chai (tea), another favourite of PM Modi) when the ruling government at the Centre is blissfully oblivious about the plight of rising unemployed people in the country.
As the Narendra Modi government is all set to present its last full budget before the all-important Lok Sabha elections in 2019, everyone is asking, "Where are the jobs?"
Union finance minister Arun Jaitley is all set to present the much-awaited Union Budget 2018 on Thursday (February 1). The upcoming budget will be the last full budget of the Modi government. The budget in 2019 will only be a vote-on-account.
If on Thursday's budget, the finance ministry does lay out a concrete vision to provide jobs for unemployed (mostly the youngsters) in the country, there is little hope that PM Modi would fulfill his much-talked about promise of giving jobs to one crore Indians.
In 2013, Modi promised one crore jobs for the country's youth if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) comes to power at the Centre.
The promise is yet to be fulfilled as the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre is all set to complete its fourth year in the office in May this year.
Whenever the government is being asked about jobs, BJP ministries have been successfully dodging the question by giving vague assertions like creation of self-employment and entrepreneurship among the masses in India. Unfortunately, the data does not support any of the claims of the government.
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.
These numbers are big, and if not tackled immediately might lead to social unrest. The skilled and educated youths without jobs will be forced to get involved in anti-social activities to eat two square meals daily.
While on the one hand, the Economic Survey 2018--the annual pre-budget economic report of the country tabled in Parliament by Jaitley on Monday on the first day of Budget session 2018--has predicted that India is likely to become the fastest growing major economies in the world in the coming days, it has stressed on the need to create more jobs to keep the country's growth story promising. As per the survey, this budget will give special emphasis on job creation.
Giving some succor to the Modi government against criticism, the latest data by the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) accounts suggests that contrary to the jobless-growth narrative, at least seven million jobs were created annually.
However, other reports paint a dismal picture regarding job creation by the BJP government.
The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt Ltd (CMIE) report says 1.5 million jobs were lost in the quarter right after demonetisation and another 0.4 million in May-June 2017. The government's own figures put out by the Labour Bureau in its Quarterly Employment Survey also paint a sad picture.
Then, why is the government not doing anything about jobs? When the job question was posed to the PM during one of his recent television interviews, he reacted in a bizarre manner, perhaps to hide his government's failure to create employment opportunities for the growing list of jobless people in the country.
Modi, during ZEE TV interview, told the nation that selling pakodas (fritters) is also a job.
In the interview Modi stated, "If a person selling pakodas earns Rs 200 at the end of the day, will it be considered employment or not?"
The statement angered several people, as experts and the Opposition continue to attack the Centre on the employment scenario in the country.
Since then social media to opposition leaders, the Modi government has come under attack for its failure to create jobs. The debate over "pakoda" has literally become the favourite pastime for many during the Budget session 2018 of Parliament. The Budget session started on Monday.
In the last few days, social media is full of sarcastic tweets against the ruling BJP government under the hashtags-- #pakodanomics, #PakodaRojgar, #Pakoda and #Pakodafor2019.
On Sunday, former finance minister P Chidambaram joined the debate on pakoda or job creation. "Even selling pakodas is a 'job' said PM. By that logic, even begging is a job. Let's count poor or disabled persons who are forced to beg for a living as 'employed' people," tweeted the former finance minister under the previous Manmohan Singh regime.
He also tweeted, "Another minister wanted MGNREGA workers to be counted as holding jobs. So they are 'job' holders for 100 days and jobless for 265 days."
The members of National Students' Union of India (NSUI) staged pakoda protests in reaction to the PM's comments twice in Bengaluru recently.
Now, we have to wait and see how the Modi sarkar is going to restrict the growing jobless graph in the budget. Or are we going to be served only pakodas by jobless men and women on the streets of India?