Jharkhand Elections: Soaring Unemployment to Ruin Chances of Victory for BJP?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is currently addressing several rallies across the state in a bid to please voters to turn to the party. Speaking at one such congregation he said, “It is through the earnest efforts of the BJP government that roads and electricity has finally reached the most desolate of villages in the state.” He went on to claim, “In the changing circumstances, new avenues of employment are opening up, new buses, trucks and tempos are leading to increased connectivity and employment and a new steel plant will further this development.”
The myth of job generation by the BJP government was busted in the same rally, when a BJP worker Aatish Kumar Singh said, “The BJP government in the state has failed to create employment opportunities. In their tenure, people are unable to find jobs, this is the biggest issue for youths like me, as we are the future of the country, but we are jobless.”
The sentiment shared by Aatish and the issue of business opportunities and employment are in fact the main issues dominating the electoral discourse in the state this year. Voters on the ground believe that it is the state government and the Chief Minister, who are responsible for the employment epidemic. The sentiment becomes clearer when one looks at the CVoter survey conducted by IANS and the Jharkhand Voter Survey.
Ahead of the state assembly polls, the voters were most keen to comment on the issues of business and employment. Out of the total number of eligible voters who were questioned during the survey, 25 per cent said that the issue of employment was their main concern.
A recent report released by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) stated that Jharkhand, along with eleven other states across India, has the highest rate of unemployment. A key statistic to note here is the jump in the rate of unemployment. The report states that while the rate of unemployment was 2.5% during 2011-12, it jumped enormously to 7.7% in 2017-18. Of over 3 crore residents of the state, 50% are dependent on agriculture for their living. The other half is employed in mining, service sector jobs, construction businesses, etc. With surging rates of unemployment, understanding poverty becomes crucial. Over 39% of the state’s population currently is Below Poverty Line (BPL). The national average of poverty remains 29.8%. While the BJP government is making last-ditch efforts to propagate itself as a “double engine” efficient government, it becomes clear that both the state and the national government are responsible for the stark levels of poverty and unemployment. The dissatisfaction of the people of the state is reflected in the hoardings that have been put across the state, wherein the BJP is being held responsible for the economic fiasco.
Speaking to NewsClick, Rakesh, a student from Ranchi said, “There are no jobs in the entire state of Jharkhand today. The issue of employment was the main concern for us, on which the government has failed to deliver any results. Even the government jobs that are available are primarily on a contractual basis, which have no future prospects.” He added, “Even those who are doing these jobs are out protesting on the streets of Ranchi. Apart from this, all the jobs that were being generated by the industry are no longer there, pertaining to recession.”
Jharkhand’s industrial hub, Jameshdpur, is also bearing the brunt of this crisis. Speaking to NewsClick, an industrial worker Shivshankar said, “Earlier, we had more work coming in, which meant that we had a better chance for a higher income. However, all of that has changed. I somehow manage to make Rs 300 a day. Most of the companies have shut down, which means we have to sit idle all day.”
Another worker from the automobile industry, Ashok, said, “Because of the economic conditions, there is no work for us. The companies are sending us home, but nobody is discussing the difficulties which we are facing while running our homes or taking care of our families.”
The building blocks of the state’s economy – steel, real estate, and automobile – are the industries that have been most affected by the economic slump. In the last five months, from March to July 2019, over 125 steel plants have been closed down across the state. This includes small scale industrial units and MSME units. Major steel plants spanning across Jamshedpur, Koderma, Ramgarh and Ranchi have also shut shop. Even in the areas where production is taking place, the prices remain abysmally low.
According to sources, the prices of steel have fallen by approximately 20%. This has in turn led to suspension of lakhs of employees. These issues are at the core of the electoral process in Jharkhand, with the opposition parties cornering the BJP. The fiercest attack is coming from Babulal Marandi, the president of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha. Attacking the government, he said, “The government must declare the amount of money it has spent in the name of investor summits, how many industries and factories were set up, how many people received employment and how many units have shut down.” He further alleged that in the name of the investor summit, Momentum Jharkhand, Rs 900 crore were siphoned off of public money. While 300 companies participated in the summit, no factories were opened and no one received any employment.
Former Chief Minister of the state, Hemant Soren said, “In Adityapur alone, over a thousand factories have shut down, rendering over 20 lakh people jobless. The fear of a shutdown is also looming large for companies such as Telco. The condition of the Hindalco group is no better, with the removal of over 5,000 industrial workers. In Giridih, the production of sponge iron has reduced by a half, with the mining industry also staring at a shutdown.”
The issue of unemployment was a key feature of the manifestos of all parties in the state. The incumbent BJP has promised that by 2024, it will make the state the “logistics hub” of North India. It has also promised that it will provide every poor person in the state with employment. The Congress has also promised that it will provide employment to at least one person from every BPL family. It has also promised to fill all vacant posts in the government offices.
On the other hand, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) has promised to provide guaranteed employment to 75% of the people of the state in the private sector. JMM has also promised a reservation of 27% for the backward classes, 28% for the adivasis and a 12% reservation to the dalits of the state in government jobs. The party has stated that it will fill up all vacant posts in government offices within two months of its election to power. It has also stated that it will pay a sum of Rs 5,000 to graduates who are unemployed and a sum of Rs 7,000 to unemployed postgraduates.
BJP leader Raghubar Das has promised to give employment to 1.15 lakh youths. Party spokesperson Deendayal Varval said, “It has been registered in the Limca book of records that 26 thousand people were given employment by private companies in a single day. Apart from this, all the policies of the government are oriented towards generating large scale employment. We are also prioritising providing work to the locals of the state, because of which we are have the complete support of the people of the state.”
The state assembly elections are currently taking place in five phases. Voting in the first phase took place on the November 30 and for the second phase on December 7. Polling is still pending on December 12, 16 and 20, while results are scheduled to be declared on December 23.
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