In election season, anything goes by way of arguments to convince the electorate that you are on their side.
While promises of freebies without having the resources to pay for them are par for the course, what is singularly missing in the public discourse is fundamental logic.
In particular, many sections of the media seem to simply reproduce what politicians say without checking the underlying logic.
It is worth examining two significant promises made by the Congress party’s eternal youth leader, Rahul Gandhi. The Gandhi scion gave us two statements in support of his caste census idea.
One is the slogan, Jitni abadi, utna haq, which translates to proportional (presumably caste-based) representation in jobs and legislatures. The other is his claim that the lack of an OBC census is one reason for the lack of jobs.
The underlying assumption is that a caste census would show that OBCs constitute a higher proportion of the population than currently estimated, and are thus entitled to more job reservations.
He said at an election meeting in Madhya Pradesh, “You are jobless because there is no caste census.”
This is rich, really rich. Unemployment has many underlying causes, but the lack of a caste survey isn’t one, even assuming one can increase reservations for OBCs after a survey.
As long as the number of government jobs available remains the same, higher quotas for OBCs will leave an equal number of non-OBCs out of government employment, which means the net additional employment in the government sector will remain the same.
This brings up the point: why is there a lack of jobs growth in the public sector when the economy is growing?
According to government reports, the Centre alone has nearly 10 lakh unfilled vacancies, and together with states and other public sector organisations, including the police, the actual number could top 60 lakh.
So why aren’t these vacancies being filled? The answer is simple: most governments, both in states and at the Centre, are busy spending their money on freebies to win elections.
As a result, the resources to take on permanent employees simply do not exist. In short, populism is killing jobs expansion in the government sector.
The key to giving more people government jobs lies in limiting freebies to the really deserving poor, so that the money saved can be used to fill available vacancies.
The caste census may improve jobs for OBCs, but without reigning in 'revdis', overall jobs in the government sector will not grow.
The fiscal deficits of states worsened during the Covid period, but even as economic activity has revived, the rush of elections is making states spend money hand over fist to return to power (or retain it).
More than a caste census, jobs growth in the public sector would be better if we adopt one-nation-one-poll, so that all election-related giveaways are restricted to one year every five years.
This brings us to that all-conquering slogan, jitni abadi, utna haq. The Prime Minister was quick to point out that this would imply that the northern Hindi belt, where Parliament has fewer representatives relative to population than in the south, should get more Lok Sabha seats at the cost of the south.
The Congress party reply is that proportional representation in jobs is different from applying the same formula to Parliament. The idea behind keeping representation lower for Hindi belt states is to avoid penalising the south for adopting for family planning, which is what lowered its birth rates to below replacement levels.
This argument is bogus. If states whose total fertility rates (TFRs) have fallen below replacement levels should not be penalised for this “achievement”, then it follows that those who did not do so should not be rewarded.
But this is exactly what we have done with our Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) population. According to the 2001 census, the share of SCs and STs has gone up, and that is why their representation in Parliament went up from 79 to 84 for SCs, and from 41 to 47 for STs.
Additionally, one may point out that OBCs may have grown their proportion in the population because the upper castes adopted family planning more willingly. Why then penalise them for this “achievement”?
If we were to take this idea in terms of communal representation, and not just by caste, it would mean that Hindus overall have been reducing their share of population faster than Muslims, whose proportions have risen from 9 per cent at the time of partition to nearly 14.5 per cent now. So, should we not find ways to penalise this egregious rise in population too?
However, as any demographer will point out, it is not the pressure to cut down families through propaganda, but economic and income growth, that helps shrink family sizes. The cost of bringing up an additional child is prohibitive the richer you are on the income scale.
Put another way, it is not the south’s greater willingness to adopt family planning that is the reason for its rapid drop in TFRs, but higher per capita incomes. This would be an argument for greater income transfers to the poorer states so that they too can bring down their family sizes faster.
The Indian media seems to lack some basic knowledge to question politicians when they offer snake oil solutions to back their political claims. This is why Rahul Gandhi gets away with his dubious statements.
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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