This election is about Jobs. Does anyone care about the 25 year-old?

In less than 100 days, we will have a new government at the centre. If you follow media in print, on TV or on the internet you are likely to be very confused. There is so much noise that it is very tough to identify what the real issues of this election are.

India is so complex that no one party will ever be in a position to have a pan-India appeal. Also, our first-past-the-post system of elections is another reason which leads to formation of small parties who can gain a lot by catering to a very selected niche – classified on basis of caste, socio-economic class, language, region or rarely on an ideology. In such a scenario it becomes very difficult to fight an election on a single issue. It is also extremely tough to predict the winner. I’m neither a political expert nor do I claim to know the mood of the nation.

However, there is an issue that affects people across castes, communities, religions, regions, socio-economic classes and ideologies. In my opinion, the party with a handle on this issue will make it.

My theory is that the party that appears most likely to create ‘productive’ jobs will form the government. Or to put it differently, the party that is able to communicate that they will be able to create such jobs most effectively.

 

The Jobs Problem in India

One thing that is common across India is a huge mass of unemployed and underemployed youth. There are two main problems as I see it : 1) Lack of enough jobs 2) Lack of skilled workers in sectors that can employ a lot of people.

Let’s look at the second problem first. There is lack of skilled labour both in rural and urban areas. It is a problem which has been well-identified and the policy makers in Delhi are not unaware. Our 12th 5-year plan talks about it in detail and also proposes solutions. To get some perspective read this blog on the World Bank website. Given that our country is full of intellectuals, problem identification has never really been our problem. We are not too bad at recommending solutions either. We just fail at the minor requirement of ‘implementing and executing’ effectively.

I highly recommend this paper published at the University of Oxford -‘This paper argues that India lacks sufficient skilled workers as its existing vocational training system does not target the casual or informal workforce, which constitutes over 90 per cent of India’s working population. This paper examines the vocational training offered for specific skills in construction and highlights the lack of inclusiveness and poor coordination in the complex federal government structure.’ It also states – ‘The large size of the population alone cannot be India’s problem since China, with a similar scale of population and training structure, has better labour productivity (indicating higher skills).’ It is a very insightful paper and if you have time you must read it in detail.

Let’s look at the other problem – Creating jobs.  This is a global problem. 5 Million unemployed people were added globally in 2013 alone. These numbers are said to be conservative. Another Oxford professor writes on the Global Demographic Crisis here.

One small extract from his piece, “In Meerut there are tens of thousands of ‘timepass’ young people. In the 1970s, India was known as the country of the “BA bus conductor”. But BA graduates would cut off your arm these days for a bus conductor job. India is now the country of the MA manual labourer.”

The most recent insights come from CRISIL – ‘Due to insufficient employment creation in industry and services sectors, more workers will become locked in the least productive and low-wage agricultural sector. We estimate that 12 million people will join the agriculture workforce by 2018-19, compared with a decline of 37 million in agriculture employment between 2004-05 and 2011-12.’  This is the legacy that the current government passes on the next government.

When one looks at urban areas, various studies indicate the grim outlook and rising frustration levels among the most active and vibrant age-group of the country. This CII-ET survey of young urban Indians gives a pretty gloomy picture.

International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates unemployment in India among young people (age 15-29) to be about 6%. It is the fourth straight year in increase in unemployment in India. While the % may be lower than many countries in Europe, we need to realize that we are a country of 1.25 Billion people. Also, we have the majority of that population which can potentially be part of the work force. Hence, marginal increase in unemployment in India is far more devastating than in most parts of the world. Imagine, healthy and bright young Indians spending the best years of their life without opportunities to fulfill their aspirations. It can get dangerous.Very, very dangerous. Most of the labour in India is in the unorganized sector where they have no protection, access to minimum wages or stability. Over 82% of our labour force is in the unorganized sector.

This is the situation despite 8 years of the much celebrated MNREGA. (I won’t go deeper into problems with MNREGA as it will require another 1500 word post. At least)

 

The New Electorate and the Sea of Aspirations

It may not be wise to compare employment numbers of two different governments of two different eras to prove a point to the electorate. Why?

One – India has changed fundamentally in the last 10 years. There are at least 97 Million new voters as compared to 2009 as per the election commission. About 46 Million were added between 2004 and 2009. That is more than 20% of the total electorate that is eligible to vote. This group has been exposed to a very different kind of a world. Major part of our life has been spent in the post-reforms era. Penetration of Media has increased exponentially in the last 10 years. Regional and rural media now play a far more influential role. Newspaper readership in regional languages has shown admirable growth. Films are a window to a new world for youth in small towns and villages. The time it takes for latest Indian and International movies to reach small villages in India has reduced greatly. The aspirations of a young Indian today are of a completely different standard. That holds true irrespective of the rural-urban divide. The comparison that matters is one with my aspirations of today and not with the performance of an earlier government. We want to live a better life and we want it faster. We want jobs that will allow us to get ‘there’. How long will we have people digging wells and manning lifts?

In this context, a lot of the current noise seems so irrelevant. For people who were not born or were less than 10 years old at the time, how important is 1984 or 2002? Do I care how many rooms the CM or PM or the President has in his house? Do I care if you build a statue? Do I care who is having a ‘dharna’ against whom? Do I care who you have issued licenses to? Do I care at what rate you have sold government land?

I am not passing a judgement on whether something is right or wrong. Law should take its course and justice must be done. Tax payer money should used wisely. There should be protests against injustice in a democracy.

But are any of the issues above pressing enough to keep me awake at night? The answer is no.

I want opportunities to grow. I want an atmosphere that promises the possibility of me being able to fulfill my dreams. We are a generation that could be sacrificial lambs because of the excesses of an earlier generation. The current cocktail of low investment, high interest rates, increasing populism only means one thing – Bleaker job prospects.

In many ways it is the 22-25 year olds who will decide who the Prime Minister of India will be. And because this 25 year old will only be 30 in 2019, this election may even decide the results of the next election. And it is the 25 year old that feels the highest pinch of the slowdown. It is the 25 year old who has to bury all his/her aspirations overnight once reality hits him/her.

Corruption as an issue is already waning. It has done the damage it had to do. There is no doubt that future governments (at least in the short term) will be less corrupt. They have to be. Inflation is an issue because there are no jobs and no commensurate growth in incomes. Inflation is also because of supply side constraints which again says – No Jobs.

If I were to give one suggestion to any political party, it would be this – for the next 2 Months just keep bombarding the electorate with how you will create productive jobs. Drop all other agenda. Do not respond to opponents jibes and remarks. Keep talking about your plan to create opportunities. It is those between 18-35 who will decide your victory. And it is the 25 year-old who is your top influencer and not the 45 year old. Any party that ignores the 25 year-old is sure to be punished.

The emotion is – I don’t want to be left out. I want an opportunity to prove myself.  Don’t snatch the stage away from me where I can perform.

I remember my trip to rural MP a few years ago. A chap slightly younger than me told me, “Bhaiyya, bahut bada banna hai. Hamari zindagi mein bhi ‘dhoom’ ho!” (Brother, I want to be a very big man. I want ‘Dhoom’ in my life)

So, who is most likely to bring ‘Dhoom’ to his life?

 

– Ankit Doshi, 27

(The author is the creator of this website)

 

Read all stories by Ankit Doshi at ankit9doshi.insideiim.com

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Ankit Doshi

Creator of InsideIIM.com

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