What this points to is a simple political admission: no political party is now certain it can create conditions for the generation of a lot of productive jobs.
If there is one thread that connects all party manifestoes for the 2019 general elections, it is this: not one of them is particularly optimistic about creating jobs.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto, after the government failed to show robust jobs growth in its tenure, kept radio silence over the issue. It made elliptical references to jobs by promising to support employment growth in “22 champion sectors” and favourable treatment to startups and entrepreneurs, including collateral-free credit upto Rs 50 lakh. The Congress manifesto talks of filling up all of 4 lakh government job vacancies in the current financial year (and more later, if states cooperate), promising 10 lakh “seva mitras” in gram panchayats. And this from a party that says jobs will be its No 1 priority.
In fact, the flagship schemes of both national parties, not to speak of several regional parties, are not about jobs at all, but putting money in the hands of the poor or entire classes of people, whether it is farmers or the deemed poor. For the Congress, the big scheme is NYAY (Nyuntam Aay Yojana), and for the BJP it is Kisan Samman. For the Telugu Desam Party and YSR Congress, it is about affordable home loan waivers and income schemes that will cost the state upwards of Rs 1.5 lakh crore a year, with Naidu’s promise of giving each family Rs 2 lakh annually taking the cake. In Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) has promised educational loan waivers, among other freebies.
As for the rest of the regional parties, from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of jail-bird Lalu Prasad Yadav to the DMK’s M K Stalin, the answer seems to lie in reservations. It is not about creating an enabling environment for job creation, but redistributing existing jobs in favour of particular constituencies, whether SC/STs or OBCs of various kinds. The RJD has promised that reservations will be proportional to various caste groups’ share in the population, which, if taken to the logical conclusion, means more than 40 per cent reservations for OBCs.
It could also mean private sector job reservations will be brought in through the front door in various states, and after that, all states will go down that same slippery slope. The DMK manifesto has already promised some kind of job reservations in the private sector.
This trend of focusing on palliatives was apparent from 2004 itself, when the Congress felt the need to create boondoggles – through MGNREGA job guarantees. The BJP, while retaining the jobs scheme, emphasised self-employment by creating a structure for channelling micro loans to the poor (Mudra scheme).
What all this points to is a simple political admission: no political party is now certain it can create conditions for the generation of a lot of productive jobs. They are working on placebos and income panaceas that involve not the creation of jobs, but incomes divorced from real jobs.
If all that a party that ruled India for more than half a century can promise is the filling up of existing job vacancies, if the party currently in power, which promised two crore jobs a year, now thinks it will only promise best effort in terms of investment but not positive employment outcomes, India is clearly reaching a dead-end in terms of ideas. As for the regional parties, mired as they are in caste and community votes, their solution is about redistributing available jobs, not creating new ones. That’s as dead an end as you can get.
As in the case of agriculture, all the solutions proposed by politicians are about trying to prevent a problem from blowing up politically in the short term, not addressing the long-term challenges underlying it.
The problems of agriculture and employment cannot be solved successfully by any party vying for short-term power. They need a national consensus that is woefully missing in our extremely polarised polity.
India’s self-defeating democracy, with its never-ending cycle of elections, has no real solutions to its people’s problems. Maybe, just maybe, Narendra Modi’s idea of one-nation, one poll needs a relook without prejudiced political eyes. At the very least, it will focus all politicians on solutions for four years in a five-year tenure, with electoral calculation coming in only towards the last year of their tenures.