Editorial: A Country in Denial

As it is, no one really believes that at 7 percent growth there should be such an abysmal fall in job creation and consequent rise in unemployment

Hardnews Bureau Delhi 

The tremendous response that the recent Bharat Bandh got, surprised its own sceptical organisers. Protesting against the anti-labour policies of the NDA government, the motley group of trade unions had not realised how angry the workers were. International media showed greater understanding of the serious implications of the strike than domestic media. Calling it the world’s biggest workers strike in which more than 100 million members of India’s working class participated, the congregation was seen to serve a serious warning to the government it cannot afford to ignore the interests of workers anymore. The organisers were amazed by the outpouring of support from the unorganised labour that struck work and stepped out to join the protests, spurred by the call to action of a Whatsapp message. All of them were crushed by the poor state of the economy as well as the uncertainties surrounding their working lives. They were searching for answers to how the economy will revive and how they will be impacted by technology. Many of them had seen digital retail take away their jobs. They were also not unmindful of the threat automation held for them and how they could be the collateral damage of its inexorable march. Some 50 million jobs, a study says, may be lost due to technological innovation. 

The worry is that PM Narendra Modi is cognisant of the phenomenal challenge that creation of jobs entails, but has seen his flagship policies stutter due to lack of investments coming from either the government or the private sector. As a perceptive observer pointed out, the government does not have a single billion- dollar project to show since it came to power. The inability of the state to create jobs has spread despondency and hopelessness in the small towns and villages of the country. Under different rubrics, millions are stepping out and demonstrating for reservation in government jobs. Look at the massive outpouring of protesters in Maharashtra. Some say one such unending rally had 25 lakh people. Besides targetting the privileges showered by the Indian State on the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, these angry voices also wanted reservation for themselves. It meant three things: first, the shame of being reserved had gone, second, people had lost faith in the private sector to create jobs, and last, the only stable entity that in their reckoning could give them dignity and uninterrupted cash flow was the government. 

The other important realisation was that traditional ways of creating wealth like farming and so on, were coming under serious threat. This erosion of what were called certainties of the Indian economy is having a nightmarish impact on the ground. Paucity of funds, accompanied by serious ideological opposition to entitlement-based programmes, has resulted in emasculation of the largely successful rural employment guarantee scheme. A large mass of people in rural areas, including women, were beneficiaries of this programme, which has completed 10 years of existence. The government’s ambivalence about its continuance has raised questions about where these people will get their next jobs. Agriculture? Unlikely! In the cities? Very uncertain. The government inability to provide an answer to this gigantic crisis is mutating into something totally different. Attempts have successfully been made to deflect attention from this issue by creating a cosmetic threat to national security and response to it as the defining principle of a good Indian. 

This is a tricky phase in the country’s life. If the government forgets its poll promise to provide jobs then its claim of steaming ahead at 7.7 GDP growth will sound very hollow. As it is, no one really believes that at 7 percent growth there should be such an abysmal fall in job creation and consequent rise in unemployment. Statistics in subsequent pages suggest a country in denial about strong recessionary trends that are sweeping the economy. There is a need to revive old job creation ways so that dignity returns to the large mass of people.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: NOVEMBER 2016