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It’s raining jobs in parties’ manifestos in Bihar but unemployed youth keep them on tenterhooks

Opposition says 25% IAS and IPS officers hailed from Bihar over the last decade but only 12% people between 15 and 59 have a regular income stream in the state.

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Patna: Shubham Kumar was in the middle of a job hunt in Dehradun when the pandemic struck. Left with few options, the 22-year-old returned to his home state of Bihar. Now he wants to set up a startup but his application for government funding is stuck in red tape.

Sipping chai at the Maurya Lok Complex in Patna, one of the oldest markets in Bihar, Kumar says no party has much concern for the youth.

“As far as the youth is concerned, we don’t figure in anyone’s scheme of things as generally most people end up going out of the state both for education and better job opportunities. But the lockdown has really changed my perspective. I want to work here in Bihar and the government has to look at this issue,” he says.

“Unemployment has been increasing and we are busy playing caste politics. I want to set up a startup along with my friend and create more opportunities for others too but our application is stuck,” he adds.

Kumar is among the nearly three million migrants who returned to the state amid the pandemic blow.

Now, as the state prepares for the assembly polls next week, the constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) are engaged in a heated ‘your tenure’ vs ‘my tenure’ battle.

But the youth in the state wants more commitment on the jobs front despite promises of ‘10 lakh jobs’ and ‘19 lakh jobs’.

Kumar’s Amardeep Kumar, 23, points out his father and brother have government jobs but not much is left for him now.

“I decided to look for other opportunities as, in Bihar, competitive exams are delayed, their results are not announced for months and at times the exam itself is cancelled. The point is that the government needs to create more opportunities in other sectors but it has failed,” he says.

Amardeep, who was working in Delhi when the lockdown forced him to return and continue work-from-home, finds Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)’s promise of 10 lakh jobs to be a “good start”. He thinks Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s time is done.

“This time I am in Bihar when the elections are taking place and I will definitely vote for change. People are busy criticising Tejashwi Yadav by citing his past but why should I judge him based on that? He has proposed to create 10 lakh jobs and that is a good start. Chirag Paswan too has potential,” he says.

“I think Nitish Kumar’s time is over. It is time to allow some young leaders to take over,” he adds.

Also read: More crorepatis join the electoral race in Bihar, with RJD and BJP fielding most of them

The ‘serious’ jobs issue in Bihar

With the Nitish Kumar government facing such anti-incumbency sentiment, the Tejashwi Yadav-led opposition has managed to strike a chord with the youth on the issue of unemployment, promising 10 lakh jobs as soon as the government is formed.

Lok Janshakti Party’s Chirag Paswan, who will turn 38 later this month, has been projecting himself as ‘adtees saal ka ladka’ (young man of 38) to establish a youth connect and present himself as the face of change as he goes up against the NDA constituent Janata Dal (United). A Delhi-like web portal where job seekers and employers can connect directly and a Youth Commission are among the promises made in his manifesto.

Even the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promised 19 lakh jobs to lure the young voters.

Youth between 18 and 29 form around 24 per cent of Bihar’s voters and have the potential to turn the unpredictable election. This includes over five lakh first-time voters in the age-group of 18-19 years.

While employment is not a problem limited to Bihar, the situation is particularly grave in the state. The scale of it was revealed when lakhs of Bihari migrant workers started walking back home in March when the lockdown was imposed.

According to a survey by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, Bihar’s unemployment rate had surged by 31.2 percentage points, rising to 46.6 per cent in April 2020.

Experts say unemployment as an issue is certainly going to impact these elections, even if its extent is in question.

“Unemployment is an all India phenomenon but the situation in Bihar is much more serious than at the national level. The urban economy is very small, there is no secondary sector though we do have the tertiary sector,” says Prabhat P. Ghosh, director of the Asian Development Research Institute, a Patna-based think-tank.

“The scale of the unemployment problem is much greater in Bihar and migration served as a strategy used by the people of Bihar to face the challenge of limited job opportunities in the state,” he adds.

Ghosh, however, points out that the reverse migration Bihar witnessed due to the lockdown imposed by Covid is likely to have an impact.

“Though migration is still there in Bihar but it is not as much as it was during the tenure of Lalu Yadav. The rate of migration declined during Nitish’s first five years. However, the situation has changed,” he says.

“Unemployment is a major issue in Bihar and Covid only made it worse as those who were working outside Bihar had to come back to the state which was not equipped to handle them,” says Ghosh.

“The performance of the state government might not have been adequate but they did make an effort, an attempt in terms of providing ration and monetary help to the migrants who returned. This is quite important but what is crucial is whether the labourers who returned remember this or whether they still remember the sufferings they had to face. Tejashwi’s promise of providing 10 lakh jobs is a tall one but it is certainly appealing and is definitely setting the narrative,” he adds.

Students at the Patna University in Bihar. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
Students at the Patna University in Bihar. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint

According to Ghosh, unemployment as an issue will only have a marginal effect on the election.

“The major issue is the referendum on the working of Nitish Kumar, not on his 15 years tenure but what he did in the last 5 years. People will focus on the immediate past and not the distant past. At the same time, I feel identity and caste politics will definitely play a role,” he says.

Also read: Modi, Nitish can’t understand Bihar issues, there’s a huge generation gap, Tejashwi Yadav says

The opposition focus on the issue

But even if the voters don’t solely vote on the issue of unemployment, the opposition’s bid to make it a major poll concern has succeeded.

Tejashwi Yadav, who has been leading the Grand Alliance from the front, carrying out over a dozen rallies daily to keep the focus on what RJD terms the real issues, first started a statewide ‘Berozgaari Hatao Padyatra’ in February.

Now ahead of the polls, he has also launched a digital portal asking unemployed people to submit their resumes for jobs on the promise that if voted to power, the party will ensure employment for them.

The migrant crisis helped build the narrative for RJD, which is looking to shift the attention from BJP-JD(U)’s focus on the “jungle raj” (lawlessness) during the Lalu Prasad tenure in the 1990s.

Grand Alliance constituent Congress has also been cornering the BJP and the JD(U) on the issue of unemployment and jobs.

“Despite being the youngest state of India in terms of its demography (in 2016 the median age of Bihar was 20 and in 2026 it would be 29.2), the avenues of employment are abysmal in Bihar. Industry’s share of employment generation is just 1.5 per cent,” says Pawan Khera, Congress national Spokesperson and in-charge of communication in Bihar.

“Despite 25 per cent IAS/IPS hailing from Bihar over the last decade, the condition of the youth in the state can be seen in this startling statistic where only 12 per cent people in Bihar between 15 and 59 have a regular income stream. Rest are all casual workers. As per a 2018 study, 94 per cent workers are in the informal sector and their income is not promised,” he says.

“Elections must be fought, won and lost on these crucial issues. The youth of Bihar is heralding a change in the way political narrative aims at distracting people from these crucial issues,” he says.

The opposition is aware of the youth’s mood and the RJD’s entire campaign is focused on change itself: Nayi Soch, Naya Bihar. Yuva Sarkar Abki Baar.

Also read: In his first Bihar rally, Narendra Modi shows Nitish Kumar his place

The JD(U)-BJP response

However, the JD(U) has been combative of RJD’s focus on unemployment, with CM Nitish Kumar asking Tejashwi to clarify how exactly he will provide 10 lakh jobs.

“Anyone who makes a promise of creating so many jobs should also tell how exactly he will deliver. He is trying to get votes by promising the moon but he should answer what exact he did during his own 18 months tenure. What was his roadmap on employment during that time, he should come up with a white paper on that?” says JD(U) spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan.

On Saturday, as he launched the RJD’s poll manifesto, Tejashwi explained the arithmetic of his promise, saying that 4.5 lakh vacancies in the state government will be filled and 5.5 lakh new jobs will be created in medicine and police services, among others.

But the JD(U) also wants to remind voters of the ‘jungle raj’ under the Lalu regime.

“We all know what the law and order situation was during Lalu ji’s tenure. As far as Nitish ji is concerned people know that if he makes a promise, he delivers whether it is electrification, road connectivity or prohibition. And as an alliance partner BJP has proposed to create many jobs and we are also trying to create more opportunities for the youth especially by coming up with mega skills centre so that we can equip them with the skills they need, focus on agro-economy,” he adds.

However, the ruling combine faces a worry as a large number of millennial voters have only heard of the ‘jungle raj’ but not seen it themselves. So they’re willing to give a new leader a chance.

“Only a youth leader will understand our pain and what exactly we want. Bihar needs a new crop of leaders and if we won’t elect them how else will they gain experience. As far as the narrative of jungleraaj is concerned I don’t have any memory of it,” says Ankit Kunwar, a 23-year-old chartered accountancy student.

“I’m sure it did happen but why should I judge his son based on what the father did. How can we grow like that? I like the work that the Modi government has done but these are state elections and I’m willing to give Tejashwi a chance. At the same time, I feel Chirag too has a future,” he says.

The opposition’s jobs agenda has succeeded to the point that the BJP has been forced to acknowledge the issue, promising to create 19 lakh jobs in its manifesto.

However, many in the BJP feel this focus should have come much earlier instead of giving an opportunity to Tejashwi to highlight it.

“Jobs are important and due to Covid it has become all the more crucial. Apart from other issues we should have been talking about this rather than giving Tejashwi an opportunity to set the narrative. But we are sure that PM Modi’s rallies will definitely help create a buzz and shift the focus on the work that has been done by the NDA,” said a senior BJP leader.

Also read: Chirag, Nitish, caste, Naxals and land reform — Modi’s 5 messages to Bihar voters

LJP question and TINA factor

While a section of the youth is still hopeful about the BJP, many feel the party is relying too much on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and must focus on developing a new crop of leaders.

Some youngsters also feel that the BJP and Paswan’s LJP have an “understanding” and they will unite after the results. The TINA (there is no alternative) factor is also an issue.

“A lot of people are definitely coming to Tejashwi’s rallies. But he was born with a silver spoon. We saw him during his 18 years tenure and didn’t see much work. Nitish has definitely not worked but at the same time I don’t think RJD is an option,” says Atal Ji, a B.Sc student at SS College in Jehanabad.

“I am willing to give Chirag a chance as he speaks well but he too should shed his luxurious lifestyle. The BJP needs to focus on a new crop of leaders, I can’t think of anyone who can be the chief minister,” he says.

Saurabh Singh, 25-year-old engaged in a private job, says he doesn’t see Tejaswhi as a leader as he “did not perform during his own tenure of 18 months”.

“I do think Chirag Paswan has an appeal and he is likely to get votes due to the sympathy factor too, but even he doesn’t have the numbers to form the government. The Bihar government has failed on all fronts. They don’t even have money to make payments to the government employees! My mother is a government employee. It is a strange situation as despite not being up to the mark, the NDA alliance may come back,” adds Singh.

Also read: Who are the Paswans? ‘Upwardly mobile, powerful’ Dalit group at centre of Bihar polls buzz 


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