In weeks after the Budget of the nation is declared, you expect that it will be the talking point. In India, though anything can happen and it does happen. We find ourselves talking about Pakodas and Chai rather than the increase in MSP prices and revision of Tax Slabs. Even in the first speech of BJP President Amit Shah in Rajya Sabha, these Pakodas managed to feature. On the face of it, the issue seems like an anecdote. A rhetorical statement made in election rally but it underlies a very embarrassing situation for the Modi government, Unemployment. Also, lets find in detail that will it help BJP in Lok Sabha election 2019?
In PM Modi’s regime, we have become accustomed to such divertive politics.This time though, the move has misfired and could be an alarm for things come for the government. In 2004 assembly elections, BJP had India shinning but their seats tally short-circuited. Could Pakoda be the start of something similar?
What Is The Pakoda Remark?
PM Modi, In an Interview given to a prominent Hindi news channel, said that a vendor selling Pakodas and earning ₹200 a day can also be counted as an employed person. The context of his statement was to answer the question related to the economic performance of his government. In his answer, he listed out the achievements such as the building of roads and railway lines. He further explained how these activities reduce unemployment by creating jobs in the Informal sector.
In continuance of this line of thought, he made the statement about a pakoda vendor and how the vendor is a part of the informal sector, is not recorded in any employment data. The context of his statement is to reflect on the human resources, disguised in informal sector adding least or no marginal value, creating under employment crisis.The statement soon garnered a lot of attention both in media and in opposition ranks. Congress pounced on it and came out guns blazing.
How did the Opposition tune the Pakoda politics?
The first reaction from Congress came from former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.
He tweeted “Even selling pakodas is a ‘job’ said PM. By that logic, even begging is a job. Let’s count poor or disabled persons who are forced to beg for a living as ’employed’ people.”
The intention was very clear, attacking Prime Minister on the issue of rising unemployment. Congress has been working for past two years on portraying PM Modi’s government as anti-poor and pro-industries. Even in this situation, they wasted no time in establishing the fact that government is insensitive towards the unemployed youth. We saw protest across the country against the statement. In Bangalore, youth setup Pakoda shops outside the ground where PM Modi was holding his rally.
Rahul Gandhi during the Gujarat assembly elections also stressed on this fact.His line of attack was directed toward the unemployed youth of Gujarat and telling them how Modiji after going to Delhi have forgotten about them. It certainly had some impact on the voters as Congress performed well in the elections and now they are looking to build upon that. The narrative of BJP government ignoring unemployed youth also fit into Congress’s ‘Suit-Boot ki Sarkar’ jibe, making their lives easy for now.
How Is Modi Government Really Performing On The Issue Of Unemployment?
As said by Modiji in his interview, the government has certainly taken in many major projects in this regard. Schemes like Mudra Yojana, Skill India initiative and various projects in infrastructure sector to create jobs on paper. Initiatives like Mudra Yojana even provide easy credit for entrepreneurs for setting up businesses. The thought behind this was to create entrepreneurs, who will, in turn, create more job opportunities as they build their business. All this schemes though looks good on paper but face harsh realities on the ground. In India the problem of implementation is far greater then we imagine.
When we say that infrastructure projects will create new jobs, we forget about the corruption on lower levels. We have a situation where the workers are found only on registers but not on site. So when we hear about an increase in the speed of infrastructural or Highway constructions we associate that with more jobs but that’s not the case every time. Sometimes it means optimum utilization of resources which was available before as well. This results in no new jobs but better optimization of resources. In Modi regime, it would not be a far fetched thing to say that this is the case. So, in spite of having fancy numbers of development, situations hasn’t changed much.
In India, we also have the problem of seasonal employment and underemployment.Both are the different types of unemployment but people affected by them are generally not counted as unemployed.
Figuratively, the unemployment rate has been around the 4.5% mark for the last few months. More worryingly, NITI Aayog in their third year action plan of 2017, pointed out that India is seriously affected by under-employment. They further suggested that under-employment not only affect families economically but also socially. They suggested in 2017, that India need high wage and high productive jobs to cure this problem.
How did the BJP react to the INC’s tweets?
When P. Chidambaram attacked Prime Minister through tweets, BJP came to the defence of their leader. In quite a predictable move, they countered the allegation with more allegations. They termed the Congress as the insulter of poor in their response to Shri Chidambaram tweets. The real counter though came from BJP President Amit Shah, who in his speech in Rajya Sabha shifted the narrative towards more serious debate then just rhetoric. In his speech, he clearly indicated that BJP is not in the mood of exchanging rhetorics on the unemployment issue. He attacked Congress by striking the soft corner of theirs, the Gandhi Parivar. He said that BJP government is “paving the potholes” that the Congress had dug in India after “55 years of one-family rule in 70 years of India’s independence”.
Is History Playing Itself out Again?
When in 2004, NDA government started their campaign of “India Shining”, they were the favorites to come back into power. BJP went all out to campaign about their achievements. They had faces like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lalkrishna Advani both in their prime of popularity. Leaders like Rajnath Singh and Pramod Mahajan were also there to support both these stalwarts. The history though writes the campaign as a blunder, Congress formed UPA-1 after the elections and BJP were left embarrassed.
The India Shining campaign started with NDA government blitzkrieg the Indian voter with advertisements. The advertisements were generally of BJP leaders and counted the achievements of government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The downside was that these ads were generally of development stories of urban growth. In a country with 60% population living in rural areas, that is a bad advertising strategy. The NDA focused too much on urban voters and in turn neglected the rising unrest in rural part towards the government. Congress, like they have done before, realized this fact and grabbed the opportunity. Rahul Gandhi, then Congress general secretary too focused on this fact only in his speeches delivered during the 2004 elections.
The India Shining campaign lacked the penetration in rural areas and along with that, it did not attract the poor as well. The campaign also failed to address various issues, like unemployment which was on the rise. India witnessed its highest unemployment rate in the following year and signs were there.
Is BJP giving steam to Pakoda Politics with an eye on Lok Sabha Election 2019?
In 2019 though, BJP have far better strategists and a leader in PM Modi. The change in the handling of unemployment issue signals the acknowledgment on the part of Amit Shah. He understands the seriousness of the issue. BJP has learned their lesson from 2004 and is not in a mood to repeat it. Amit Shah and PM Modi identified that issues like corruption and development are the issue affecting the public quite early in 2014 election campaign. In the election campaign, they introduced Chai par Charcha in response to a jibe by Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar. It picked up steam, with their Acche Din Slogan and become synonymous with their campaign.We all saw the outcome. They won a majority by themselves.
This time also BJP will try to introduce such issue, where they can attck Congress and garner sympathy in eyes of rural voters especially. The Pakoda politics could be jsut the begining of that stratagy. Congress on their part would have to be careful.Their rhetorical jibes might just once again come back to bite them like it did in 2014.
In 2014 elections we had the whole “Chai Wala” jibe costing very dearly to Congress. The way BJP is attacking and defending this, we just might have Pakodas also in next year’s election season along with Chai par Charcha.