By Arnab Sen Sarma
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi recently lashed out at the Modi government on the dismal state of the economy and rising unemployment in the country. “PM’s hall of shame- Minimum GDP, Maximum Unemployment”, he wrote on Twitter and shared a graph plotting the rise of unemployment among the youth since 2014. Although he seems concerned about issues affecting the youth of this nation, his own party’s actions do not tend to match his words.
A closer look at Punjab would reveal this two-faced nature of Congress.
While campaigning for the 2017 assembly polls, Captain Amarinder Singh peddled the dream of a “Nawan Naroan Punjab” to the Punjabi electors. To this end, the Congress party released a populist action plan – “Captain De Nau Nukte” – whereby the party promised the moon to the people of Punjab. The nine-point agenda sought to address critical issues such as water-sharing, drug abuse, employment, SC welfare, agricultural and industrial growth. The Captain-led Congress party, riding the populist bandwagon, catapulted to power with a thumping electoral victory. The Congress won 77 of the 117 seats, one less than a two-thirds majority. The decadal "misrule" of Parkash Singh Badal- led SAD-BJP alliance in Punjab ended with a colossal defeat. The decisive mandate in favor of Congress, in essence, reflected the profound support of the people of Punjab towards the pro-development pre-electoral pronunciamento of the party.
Unemployment was one of the most pressing issues for Punjab, especially the youth, in the run-up to the 2017 assembly elections. The Congress manifesto released on occasion sought to gain leverage by promising to cater to this cardinal woe of the Punjabi youth. The manifesto stated, “Ghar Ghar Rozgar” mission would significantly improve the grave unemployment scenario in the state. Under the scheme, the party committed itself to offer a job to a member of each Punjabi household. The manifesto further promised that, until such time, the government would provide an unemployment allowance of Rs. 2,500 per month to all the identified unemployed. Interestingly, CM Amarinder Singh,79, who once stated that the 2017 assembly polls would be his last political battle, is now keen on seeking a second consecutive term for himself. With the assembly elections due in less than a year, it would be a timely undertaking to gauge the performance of his government vis-à-vis the pre-poll employment promise.
The Amarinder Singh- led government, under the flagship "Ghar Ghar Rozgar" mission, claims to have "facilitated" more than 17.61 lakh youth in securing employment in various sectors since March 2017. But the data pertaining to unemployment in the state narrates a different story. The unemployment rate (UER) in the state, instead of plummeting, kept soaring. This even as the state made claims of assisting 1000 youth per day in attaining gainful employment. In the last year of the SAD-BJP alliance government, in 2016, the CMIE, an economic think-tank, recorded 7.6% UER in the state. After CM Amarinder Singh took charge in 2017, the CMIE reported 8.2% and 10.3% UER in the state in 2018 and 2019, respectively. To put things into more perspective, the national UER for 2018 and 2019 were 6% and 7.4%, respectively, and the COVID-19 virus was yet to find its way to the country. Periodic Labor Force Survey (2018-19), the official source of employment statistics in India, confirms this grim state of employment in the state, with Punjab clocking a higher UER than the national UER of 5.8%. The 2021 Economic Survey has also ranked Punjab among the top 5 states with the worst unemployment rate.
The mouthful "Ghar Ghar Rozgar" has been, in reality, restricted to that of the Punjab government hosting job fairs in partnership with private entities, quite similar to those annual placement fairs organized by private-run colleges/universities.
In 2018, the Punjab government announced that it would provide jobs to "at least ten poor, jobless youth of every village". Punjab has approximately 13,000 villages. As per the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) website, the government claims to have provided employment opportunity to 72,716 unemployed rural youth. Even if we consider this claim at face value, the government will fall well short of its target.
Now, let us turn to the reality of the promised joblessness allowance of Rs. 2,500 per month. In 2020, Punjab Minister for Employment Generation and Training Chiranjit Singh Channi, while responding to SAD MLA Baldev Singh Khaira, admitted that the government was yet to take a call on paying out the pledged unemployment allowance to the intended beneficiaries. While the unemployment allowance is under consideration, the CM promptly flouted rules to hand out jobs to the children of Congress leaders on sentimental grounds to protect his vested interests.
The CM, with an eye on the forthcoming assembly elections, has recently asked his government to ramp up the recruitment drive to fill various vacant positions. But with the state economy battered by the impact of the COVID-19, it is unlikely to happen and would soon prove to be another electoral gimmick. According to the Punjab Economic Survey (2020-21), the state economy is estimated to shrink by 6.4% over the previous year.
The Amarinder Singh- led Congress government in Punjab has failed to walk the talk. The palpable anger of the people of Punjab against the Congress government is quite evident in a recently conducted ABP-C-Voter survey, where AAP was seen gaining ground at the direct cost of Congress.
Rahul Gandhi may keep expressing his phony concerns, but he must remember the famous proverb, "those who live in glass houses should not throw stones".
CM Amarinder Singh, a master of optics, has already appointed poll strategist Prashant Kishore to gloss over his government's wrongdoings over the past five years. Now, we must wait for some more time to see whether this would be enough to play false the electors of Punjab. In a 2016 interview with the veteran journalist Sekhar Gupta, the military-historian turned politician, remarked, "no one speaks truth in politics". For once, I would like to believe him.
- The author is Researcher on Public Policy, Associated with Peoples Pulse, Political Research Organization. firstname.lastname@example.org