UP ELECTIONS: Unemployment or Loyalty—Staunch Yogi Supporter in Dilemma
Ram Pathak in black full sleeves jacket at the Gorakhpur railway station.
Gorakhpur: Ram Pathak (31) is a staunch Yogi Adityanath supporter but is undecided about his choice of candidate in this Assembly election. Pathak, the owner of SDM Public School in Barroh area of Gorakhpur, the home turf of the chief minister, also ferries rail and air passengers in his personal car to feed his family of five, run the school and pay instalments of his car.
Gorakhpur voters should elect Adityanath because “he has done a lot for the district’s development without discriminating between caste or religion”, Pathak tells Newsclick while waiting to pick up passengers at the railway station, but “not as Prime Minister”—seen as a possible successor to Narendra Modi in some quarters.
“India is a country of all religions. I don’t want Yogi Adityanath as Prime Minister because the divisive politics may break the beauty of India. Baba [Adityanath] is good as a member of Parliament or legislator or even chief minister but not Prime Minister,” Pathak says adding that though he has “definitely worked for the development of his constituency and the state, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plays divisive politics”.
Adityanath recently said that he has no ambition to be PM. “The party assigned me to serve Uttar Pradesh and I do my duty till the party wants it. I will keep on serving the people through the Mutt,” he told this reporter during an interview with Reuters.
According to Pathak, “unemployment has spiked in the state and Brahmins are being neglected” though he doesn’t blame the Adityanath government entirely for the high rate of joblessness. “It took more than two years to deal with the COVID-19 crisis,” he says.
What about rising inflation and the increasing prices of ration and petrol. “The price of edible oil has gone up to Rs 200. Petrol has already touched Rs 100. I had to ask four teachers to leave because I couldn’t pay their salaries. I started ferrying passengers from the railway station and the airport in my car to feed my family, pay the teachers and the EMIs of my car and meet other expenses,” the BSc says.
Pathak is not eligible for free ration because he is above the poverty line. “It is harder for persons like me. I am a science graduate. Had I got a job or some sort of support from the state government after the pandemic, I would have never fired the teachers or become a part-time cab driver,” he rues.
Citing the 2020 encounter of dreaded gangster Vikas Dubey and the sidelining of senior BJP leader and former state party president Laksmi Kant Bajpayi by the party, Pathak says if the party “continues to neglect Brahmins, we will soon become untouchables. Brahmins have always supported the BJP—but now it seems that we will have to switch sides”.
Pathak is interrupted by fellow cab driver Aijaz Ahmad, who says the allegation of discrimination between Thakurs and Brahmins is baseless. “When Baba never discriminated between Hindus and Muslims, the theory of discrimination between Thakur and Brahmins is baseless. I have known Maharajji [Adityanath] for the last 22 years and met him several times. He always spoke to me like a brother. The allegation of discrimination is baseless,” he says.
The debate turns heated with others saying that the state government hasn’t done much to generate jobs and control inflation. Uttar Pradesh’s unemployment rate, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, increased from 2.4% in March 2017 to 3% in January 2022.
Around 38%, or 5.71 crore, of the working-age population (14.82 crore) of the state was employed in May-August 2016. The percentage reduced in a year to 37.17% in May-August 2017, 36.33% in 2018, 35.34% in 2019, 33.33% in 2020 and 32.79% by the end of 2021. The total number of people employed was more than 5.6 crore until the first quarter of 2020. Many people lost jobs due to the pandemic with the number of employed dropping to 5.49 crore in May-August 2020.
Lucknow-based veteran journalist Neeraj Srivastava says that the issue of joblessness in the state is definitely going to dent the BJP’s vote bank. “I think the government has underestimated the issue. The youth is angry and the lathi charge on job aspirants in Lucknow, Prayagraj and other cities of Uttar Pradesh has added fuel to the fire. No matter what data are presented or claims made by the government regarding employment generation, this issue is going to make an impact,” he says.
However, Adityanath’s media advisor Mrityunjay Kumar says that the state government has provided more jobs than the two earlier governments. Gorakhpur will vote on March 3.
The writer is a freelance journalist.
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