TEST­ING TIMES

Can Naren­dra Modi live up to his prom­ise of pro­vid­ing jobs to young­sters?

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - LATHA JISHNU

AFIFTH OF the world’s young people are In­di­ans. That’s a stag­ger­ing fig­ure in ac­tual num­bers: around 232 mil­lion who are be­tween 15 and 24 years. Yet no one fo­cuses on this huge youth bulge.Not aca­demics, not even the so­cial sci­en­tists among them for whom this seg­ment should pro­vide juicy re­search ma­te­rial.Not psy­chol­o­gists ei­ther and much less po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists, who seem clue­less as to what the young want.

Rest­less, as­pi­ra­tional and des­per­ate for a bet­ter life, the youth should have been a pri­or­ity for all politi­cians. But they weren’t ex­cept for a 63-year-old shrewd politi­cian who saw their po­ten­tial. To them he sold hope— and a dream. With his ex­tra­or­di­nary mar­ket­ing skills prime min­is­ter-to-be Naren­dra Modi con­nected with these teem­ing mil­lions like few politi­cians have. In Ut­tar Pradesh par­tic­u­larly, where 20 per cent of the vot­ers were in the 1822 year bracket, his mes­sage of growth and de­vel­op­ment ap­pears to have struck a res­o­nant chord. In this large, pop­u­lous and back­ward state where the ad­min­is­tra­tion has been crum­bling un­der the in­com­pe­tence of, iron­i­cally, a young chief min­is­ter the de­spair and hope­less­ness was ram­pant as Down To Earth dis­cov­ered when it re­searched a cover fea­ture a month ago see ‘Des­per­ately seek­ing skills & jobs’, Down To Earth, April 1-15,2014) on un­em­ploy­ment among In­dia’s youth. Des­o­late em­ploy­ment ex­changes had turned into volatile are­nas where job­less young men and women scram­bled madly for the un­em­ploy­ment doles handed out to a small per­cent­age of their tribe. It is hardly sur­pris­ing that Modi se­cured a thump­ing 71 of the 80 seats in Ut­tar Pradesh.

So Modi ap­peals to the young with his 56-inch chest and a com­pelling im­age of a strong leader.He con­nects as much with the In­ter­net and so­cial me­dia-savvy youths of the cities as with the ru­ral young des­per­ate to leave be­hind their dirt-poor farm­ing back­grounds for city jobs with de­cent pay. He takes ‘self­ies’, he tweets con­tin­u­ously and his huge so­cial me­dia es­tab­lish­ment has the right strate­gies. Just a day be­fore the re­sults were an­nounced he un­veiled an An­droid ap­pli­ca­tion, Jobs in GoG, that puts out de­tails of govern­ment jobs avail­able in Gu­jarat.

It hardly mat­ters to the youth that the bjp leader por­trays him­self as a Hindu leader of what he has now de­clared a Hindu rash­tra.To them the for­mer rss pracharak who will take In­dia firmly into the 21st century holds out the prom­ise of Gu­jarat’s fa­bled de­vel­op­ment to the rest of the coun­try. It’s a model which they be­lieve is a jobs par­adise. This is ir­ra­tional ex­u­ber­ance of a kind the coun­try has rarely ex­pe­ri­enced.The 1984 elec­tions may have given a much younger and a more per­son­able Ra­jiv Gandhi and his Congress party a brute ma­jor­ity in the Lok Sabha but that was a dif­fer­ent era with dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions and the young were not so nu­mer­ous then.

For Modi, meet­ing the as­pi­ra­tions of the young will be the most tax­ing of his chal­lenges. He needs to stim­u­late the econ­omy and cre­ate over 50 mil­lion jobs an­nu­ally for the next 10 years to ab­sorb the un­em­ployed and new en­trants to the job mar­ket.And there are fun­da­men­tal anom­alies in the econ­omy he will have to deal with. In­dia’s eco­nomic model has been pre­co­cious, skip­ping the man­u­fac­tur­ing stage al­most en­tirely in favour of growth based on ser­vices. China did ex­actly the op­po­site be­cause it knew that man­u­fac­tur­ing alone could ab­sorb the large num­bers of un­skilled labour com­ing from agri­cul­ture. In In­dia’s case, the fo­cus on the ser­vice sec­tor has been largely mis­placed.It has of­fered more dead-end jobs than a lad­der to bet­ter prospects. Can Modi re­vive the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor at this stage? Even if he did man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries are now us­ing high-end tech­nol­ogy that re­duces the job po­ten­tial.But good days are here, tweeted the hope of the youth and they need to be­lieve in him.

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