In­dia’s Modi pushes jobs quota for poor up­per caste

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

NEW DELHI — In­dia’s par­lia­ment passed a land­mark bill on Wednesday putting aside 10 per­cent of govern­ment jobs for poorer up­per caste cit­i­zens, a move crit­i­cized by some as a pre-elec­tion gim­mick amid high un­em­ploy­ment.

Job­less­ness in the world’s sec­ond most pop­u­lous coun­try shot up to a 15-month high last month, data from an in­de­pen­dent think tank showed, un­der­lin­ing the chal­lenge to Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s bid to re­tain power in a vote ex­pected by May.

The new pub­lic sec­tor jobs quota is ex­pected to mainly ben­e­fit the up­per ech­e­lons of In­dia’s cen­turiesold Hindu caste sys­tem, which has tra­di­tion­ally been a core voter base for Modi’s Hindu na­tion­al­ist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Modi must call a na­tional elec­tion by May and was dealt a set­back in De­cem­ber when the BJP lost power to the op­po­si­tion Con­gress party in three states, its big­gest de­feat since he took of­fice in 2014.

Un­der the new amend­ment to the con­sti­tu­tion, floated by Modi’s party days af­ter those state de­feats, peo­ple with an an­nual in­come below 800,000 ru­pees ($11,354) and own­ing fewer than two hectares of land would be eligible.

The lower house of par­lia­ment had al­ready passed the bill and al­most all po­lit­i­cal par­ties voiced their sup­port for it in the up­per house on Wednesday.

“Glad to see such wide­spread sup­port for the bill,” Modi tweeted af­ter the bill’s pas­sage. “It en­sures a wider can­vas for our yuva shakti (youth) to show­case their prow­ess and con­trib­ute to­ward In­dia’s trans­for­ma­tion.”

In­dia al­ready has job and ed­u­ca­tion quo­tas for its low­est so­cial classes, but this is the first time up­per caste Hin­dus and peo­ple from other re­li­gions will ben­e­fit from af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion.

“There is no food but ev­ery hun­gry man is handed an empty plate, that’s what the Modi govern­ment is do­ing with the youth of In­dia,” Shahid Sid­diqui, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer law­maker, said on Twit­ter. “There are no jobs, but 10 per­cent reser­va­tion in the line of un­em­ployed.”

Derek O’Brien, from the op­po­si­tion All In­dia Tri­namool Con­gress party, said the bill was “an ac­knowl­edg­ment of guilt, that we haven’t cre­ated any jobs in last four and a half years”.

But Modi said the bill “sets into mo­tion the process to achieve an ef­fec­tive mea­sure that en­sures jus­tice for all sec­tions of so­ci­ety”.

Data from the Cen­ter for Mon­i­tor­ing In­dian Econ­omy think tank showed In­dia lost as many as 11 mil­lion jobs last year, with around 83 per­cent in ru­ral ar­eas, as op­er­a­tional costs surged for small busi­nesses since the launch of a na­tional sales tax in 2017.

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