PM Narendra Modi has described the problem with the job situation in the country as “lack of job data” rather than “lack of jobs”. It may appear to be another instance of presenting issues in his typical ‘simplistic’ style. Although his reference may appear to be an off-the-cuff response during the course of interview with Swarajya magazine, it is not so; it is part of a well-thought-out approach that the government has been trying to put forth. Remember the pakoda controversy? There is complete consistency in the two approaches.
Pakodanomics was not just a midnight thought. Before coming to power, Modi had promised to create one crore new jobs every year if his party was voted to power. But the target turned out to be a line drawn in water. According to official data, in 2016-’17, only 4.1 lakh jobs were created, which is not even 5% of what he promised. In four years of the Modi government, the unemployment rate registered an increase as the economy got caught in the tailspin of the demonetisation and GST hiccups. There has been a clear shift in the pattern of employment from permanent jobs to casual and contractual jobs. The temporary nature of work, obviously, had an adverse effect on the level of wages, stability of employment and social security.
The government claims it has provided assistance to 7.2 crore youths under self-employment schemes. If what these people do with that money can be categorised as employment, suddenly, the job creation numbers would appear respectable and it would suggest that the government has performed even better than it promised. That is the catch in the pakoda argument.
It was in this context that Modi suggested that people selling pakodas and earning Rs200 a day must also be counted as gainfully employed. The observation created a storm, with former Union finance minister P Chidambaram butting in with his caustic remark that, by the same logic, begging could also be considered employment. Modi’s comment, which many considered outrageous, led to a storm of protest.
Conclusions of a recent global Gallup poll, however, came as big embarrassment to the government as it nailed Modi’s claim. The survey, too, spoke about the shortcomings of official job data, but it was not in the angle that corresponded to Modi’s line. Citing the fallacy in the official records on unemployment, the survey report pointed out how “people selling trinkets on the streets in India” are considered having jobs. “Although their work hardly meets their needs, they still have what global agencies define as work. They are officially self-employed, which means they are not unemployed,” wrote Jon Clifton, managing partner of Gallup in a briefing on the global survey. His views are not at all helping Modi and his cause.