(This is the second article in a series of articles called #ManifestoMusings, based on the manifestos of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian National Congress for the Indian General Elections 2019)

The Indian General Election season is here!

Will it be ‘Abki baar (phir) Modi sarkaar’ (‘this time (again) it is time for a Modi government’) or ‘Jaat par na pat par, mohar lagega haath par’ (‘neither based on caste nor on creed, my vote will be on the hand’; the hand is the symbol of the Indian National Congress)? Will India finally vote for a regime mainly on development issues or are we still some way off from such a scenario? How important will caste dynamics be? Will communal and sectarian politics play a role?

These are all questions that shall matter immensely as the country gears up for the General Elections 2019, beginning from 11 April 2019.

The manifestos for Indian General Elections 2019 of the major Indian national parties: Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress, have now been released. Both parties have looked into various aspects of life and society in their respective manifestos, right from the economy and jobs to foreign affairs and defense.  While one focuses on its leader (the BJP’s with the focus being on Narendra Modi), the other seems to focus on people, in general. One talks of resolutions (‘Sankalp‘) while the other talks of its ability to deliver (the Indian National Congress).

As the country gears up to vote, I would like to look at the key points that are covered (or not covered) in the manifestos, in a series of articles called #ManifestoMusings. This second article is looking at employment generation plans and projects suggested by the two parties. The manifestos for Indian General Elections 2019 of the major Indian national parties: Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress, have now been released. Both parties have looked into various aspects of life and society in their respective manifestos, right from the economy and jobs to foreign affairs and defense.  The election promises to be a mix of people, communities, ideologies, parties, concerns, interests and life, across the country, which shall come alive as the country chooses who it wants as its leader for the next five years. India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35. As a result, appealing to the youth of the country is of utmost importance. Having them turn out and vote is vital for the sustenance of a healthy democratic culture and environment in the country. One of the most crucial aspects of the manifestos that matter to them would be jobs and employment prospects.

As both parties pitch their manifestos for claiming power in 2019, let us see what the two parties have to say on this on this.

Champion Sectors, 10% EWS Quota and Entrepreneurship

Jobs, as per many, could be the undoing for the BJP in this election. India’s population pressure is such that last year 19 million people apparently applied for 63,000 vacancies in the Indian railways while two lakh applicants (including doctors and engineers) applied for 1,137 vacancies for police constables in Mumbai! There are too many people in the pool for too few jobs. For any economy and country to be working for its people, especially its youth, job creation is important and that is where many feel the BJP has not done enough. Modi pledged to create one crore jobs if brought to power in 2014. Modi and his government may have implemented major reforms in the economy, but there are still deep-seated problems in the system. Some say demonetisation and the roll-out of GST, particularly and mainly in the way it was implemented, has encumbered the system further. However, in all fairness, the system and its faults are not the way they are due to Modi and the BJP government alone. They are not even due to the previous government under Dr. Manmohan Singh, though the economic recession of 2008 and the corruption scandals may have created some dents. It is a long-standing problem due to limited resources and a large population coupled with some flaws in the way successive governments have dealt with this problem. On the other end of the spectrum, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) published a report recently that said 13.5 million jobs were created every year, on average, over the past five years, and the signs are looking positive for the economy and for employment generation. The top sectors, when it came to job-generation were hospitality & tourism, textiles and apparel, and metal products, in that order, while Maharashtra, Gujarat and Telangana were the best job-creating states.

Without either negating or accepting either ends of the spectrum (yet) as the final judgement (or indictment) of the government, let me present what the BJP has to say about this area, in terms of poll promises for 2019

We will create new opportunities of employment by providing more support to the 22 major ‘Champion Sectors’ identified as the main drivers of Indian economy. We will optimally leverage the untapped employment-generation of potential of sectors such as defence and pharmaceuticals to take advantage of the opportunities available in domestic and foreign markets.

For starters, a natural question would be: what are these champion sectors? After some research and fact-finding, I came across a Press Information Bureau (PIB) press release that highlighted what champion sectors meant:

These include Information Technology & Information Technology enabled Services (IT & ITeS), Tourism and Hospitality Services, Medical Value Travel, Transport and Logistics Services, Accounting and Finance Services, Audio Visual Services, Legal Services, Communication Services, Construction and Related Engineering Services, Environmental Services, Financial Services and Education Services.

The BJP promises to take forward its aim of developing India into a ‘knowledge-based, skill-supported and technology-driven society’. It looks at how networks and clustering within the economy could help create jobs:

We understand that clustering and network effects are important in order to build competitiveness in cutting edge industries. Therefore, we will invest in creating clusters/networks that can take on the world’s best. Public procurement and government incentives will be used actively to build up these clusters and encourage job creation.

The BJP seeks to push for increased public and private investment to increase job creation and employment prospects. The party seeks to build infrastructure and improve the quality of life in terms of amenities and services. This itself will create jobs for the masses in the country, which the party wants to tap into. The BJP has recently promised to invest $1.4 trillion by 2024 for building infrastructure, be it highways, airports or railways. It has promised to spend another $350 million in rural India, to facilitate doubling of farm incomes by 2022, by building silos and warehouses and on schemes such as the interest-free credit cards of up to $1,400 for those repay their loans promptly. All of these investments and measures will boost the construction industry that is a major employer in the country. This will also give a fillip to the associated industries such as cement, power, steel, transportation and mining. The CII report also said that the job creation in the MSME sector had grown by 14% from 2014-18.

One of the greatest moves in a country that has been beset with poverty and lack of development coupled with reservation based only on social identities and not for economically weaker sections belonging to the general category was the creation of a 10% quota for economically weaker sections of society. BJP in its manifesto has ensured that economically weaker sections of the society who belong to the non-reserved category are represented and have access to government jobs and higher education through the 10% reservation. The Constitution (124 Amendment) Act, 2019 that made this a constitutional clause was passed by the President back in January 2019. In all fairness and the same spirit, the BJP seeks to continue implementing the law ensuring that the reservation and representation of SCs, STs, and OBCs in the job market. The BJP manifesto also has a section on employment opportunities for tribal communities, while highlighting that the BJP has continuously protected and promoted the interest of forest dwellers particularly the tribal communities, by endeavouring to provide basic amenities, such as roadways, communication-channels and housing, to people living in remote corners of the country, and the party shall continue to do so. The party seeks to establish 50,000 Van Dhan Vikas Kendras in the tribal areas of the country to enable the primary processing and value addition for forest produce and to supplement tribal income.

A major section of BJP’s Sankalp Patra promises on job creation relates to entrepreneurship and startups, and the whole idea of transforming ‘job-seekers’ to ‘job-givers’. The BJP seeks to launch a new scheme to provide collateral-free credit up to ₹50 lakh for entrepreneurs, and promises to guarantee 50% of the loan amount for female entrepreneurs and 25% of the loan amount for male entrepreneurs. It is heartening to see that Modi wishes to set-up a new ‘Entrepreneurial Northeast’ scheme to provide financial support to micro, small and medium industries and for employment generation in the Northeastern state. This definitely is long-needed but obviously also plays to the gallery, considering the number of seats the North-east can get the BJP in this election (courtesy: Hemanta Biswa Sarma and Co.). The BJP also promises to expand the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana for budding entrepreneurs to take the number of beneciaries of Mudra loans up to 30 crore, and to also promote and encourage Startups through creation of a ‘Seed Startup Fund’ of ₹20,000 crore.

Services-based Jobs, MSMEs and Apprenticeships

The Congress’ concerted push on the jobs front may have had an eerie deja-vu moment for Modi, had he not been on the other end of the deal this time. Modi came to power in 2014 on the promise of changing the realities when it came to employment. The INC begins its first major manifesto-section with a description of rising unemployment and the words

Today, unemployment is touching a 45-year high of 6.1 per cent according to the government’s own figures. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy puts the number at 7.2 per cent. At the end of this February, 3.1 crore people were actively looking for jobs. Data indicates that total employment has declined, the labour participation rate has declined.

Besides a general pledge to give the highest priority to protecting existing jobs and creating new jobs, the INC promises to create a new Ministry of Industry, Services and Employment. I was personally not sure how this would differ from the existing Ministry of Labour and Employment, and would therefore would love to have more information on this front. The INC goes on to promise that it will fill all the 4 lakh vacancies as on 1 April 2019 in the Central Government, Central Public Sector Enterprises, Judiciary and Parliament before the end of March 2020. It mentions the possibility of a bit of subtle arm-twisting of the state governments by saying

As a condition for devolution of funds to the healthcare and education sectors and to Panchayats and Municipalities Congress will request State Governments to fill all vacancies, estimated at 20 lakh, in the 2 sectors and in local bodies.

So much for decentralization and federalism!

The Congress goes on to promise the abolition of application fees for government examinations and government posts, and to expand the health and education sectors significantly to create jobs associated with these sectors. They also seek to work with state governments to look into effective payment (including pending arrears) and support for para-state workers such as Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, rozgarsahayakspreraks, and anudeshaks.

The INC goes on to highlight the importance of the manufacturing sector and the possibility of creating jobs in the same. The party seeks to trigger growth of Mini, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), which account for 90% of employment outside agriculture as per the party, and the manufacturing sector in general by providing world-class infrastructure in industrial hubs and cluster towns. This will not only expand existing unit but also create new ones. Speaking of enterprises, not to be left behind on the entrepreneurship front, the Congress says that it wants to create an Enterprise Support Agency that shall help entrepreneurs with business support, counselling, help with access to technology, incubation of business proposals, funding, market participation and creation of products and services. The party also promises to `regulatory forbearance for Micro and Small Enterprises’ and freedom from ‘Inspector Raj’ until they stabilise, as they put it. This would mean that such enterprises are exempt from all laws and regulations, other than the tax laws and Minimum Wages Act, for three years from the date of starting the business. Congress also wants to promote what it calls `mass entrepreneurship’ and `support entrepreneurs to replicate tried and tested models of businesses in order to meet the growing demand for such goods and services’. The Congress also wants to reward businesses that create new jobs by lowering direct tax rates and lowering the demand for amount to the CSR fund.

One interesting area that the INC covers is that of incentivising employment of women. The Congress promises to give fiscal incentives to businesses that employ a certain percentage of women (strangely unspecified though). This is particularly important since, as per a study, increasing women’s labor force participation by 10% could add $700 billion to India’s GDP by 2025 which translates to a 1.4% rise! In a world where Women earn 62% of what their male colleagues earn for performing the same work, as per the Global Gender Gap Report by the World Bank Forum, it is only right to have incentivisation for increased women employment in India.

Congress seeks to look at increasing exports and developing the tourism sector for job creation within the country, by promising `an adequately capitalised Tourism Development Bank to provide low-cost, long-term funds for investment in tourism-related businesses’. The manifesto also looks at how the repair and restoration of water bodies (under the ‘Water Bodies Restoration Mission’) and the regeneration and afforestation of wasteland and degraded land (under the ‘Wasteland Regeneration Mission’) can create (a purported 1 crore) jobs for the youth. Besides this, there is a push for fairness and support to apprentices within businesses and to equip youth to capitalize on opportunities relating to `jobs that will emerge with the advent of new technologies’.

In Conclusion

The largest democratic exercise comes with the largest dilemmas on whom to elect as the next Prime Minister of India. Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi. Both the parties have come out with well-made manifestos that cover a whole range of topics. In this analysis I have tried to be as impartial as possible in my assessment when it comes to the poll pitches for employment. In this case, the BJP comes out as more balanced and set to continue on the path it has set itself in the last five years while Congress proposes an overhaul of the system on various fronts. Both parties have their strengths and weaknesses, like any other party. I would like my readers to decide after going through the manifestos and my series #ManifestoMusings, of which this is the second article. Mandate 2019 is a massive decision for the fate of the country, and as responsible citizens of the country, it is our duty to take an informed and well-thought-out position.

Every vote counts, every voice is important.

These are exciting times and I look forward to seeing another chapter being inked into the history of modern India on 23 May 2019 when a new government shall take office in India.

Jai Hind!