An extremely crass but popular Hindi proverb argues that if your kismet is so bad that only unpalatable things are ordained for you, why would destiny serve you pakoras (fritters)? By this typical north Indian logic, Amit Shah’s argument that selling pakoras is better than being unemployed should make everyone selling the aforementioned snack feel extremely lucky.
Yet, at a deeper level, Shah’s argument can only be taken with a pinch of salt. Selling pakoras can rarely be a career choice. It is usually a decision thrust upon a person by lack of alternatives, a compulsion enforced by the need for survival. Nobody in India, I can bet, grows up dreaming of selling pakoras on the streets, outside TV studios, and next to liquor shops, where incidentally, they are consumed the most with assorted snacks. So, if Shah — and before him the prime minister — are trying to sell ‘pakoranomics’ as a success story of their government, they should be reminded that it is in fact their failure. India did not vote for the BJP in 2014 to buy more pakoras or see more and more youth set up corner stalls for frying fritters, boiling eggs or serving pani puri. The vote was for better days, more employment, high rates of growth, and ultimately, a life of dignity and hope. With its reductive pakora logic, the BJP is only hiding its failure.
Also, what exactly is the government’s contribution if a youth sets up a roadside stall, buys a stove, oil, condiments and some gram flour to earn a living? It is in fact a desperate measure that signals the end of hopes and dreams, a surrender to circumstances. Any government that claims credit for this is just laughing at itself.
Selling pakoras was an option, even during the UPA government because the economy, literally, was in the frying pan. The growth rate during its second term had come down from the highs of the first few years of the new millennium, falling to less than five percent (old methodology).
So, in 2014, when India voted for the BJP, many hoped, as the saying goes, that all five fingers would be in butter. Voters thought Narendra Modi would put India on the fast track with his innovative ideas and energy. The youth believed that he would live up to his promise of generating 10 million jobs every year. But, as this report in The Hindu pointed out, at the present rate of job creation, it will take 30 years to fulfil that promise.
Every year, around 13 million youth join the workforce. Of these, under the Modi government, only 3.4 lakh have been getting jobs, as a survey by the ministry of labour pointed out in 2016. This, incidentally, is half of what was witnessed during UPA II (2009 to 2014). Obviously, those who find themselves without employment will have to look for survival strategies like selling pakoras.
Jobs are generated when the economy grows at a healthy rate. Hiring takes place when the industry invests in capacity expansion because of growing demand for their products and services. The Modi government’s record on the growth front has been subpar. In its first four years, as former prime minister Manmohan Singh argued, it failed to achieve the average rate of growth recorded under UPA.
Furthermore, problems for the economy have been compounded by disruptive measures like demonetisation and hasty implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST). As growth and investments have slumped, the unemployment rate, instead of going down by one crore jobs every year, has gone up marginally — from the UPA era’s 4.9 percent to 5 percent.
In 2014, India was high on hope. That hope is now being replaced by scepticism and inchoate anger. The first signs of this change in mood appeared in Gujarat, where the BJP barely managed to win the Assembly election. This feeling was reinforced by voters in Rajasthan earlier this week when they defeated the BJP in three crucial elections by huge margins. That the BJP lost more than 10 percent votes in Rajasthan’s urban, semi-urban and rural areas should be a wake-up call for the BJP.
There is growing anxiety among the youth about their future. As jobs shrink, the economy stutters, and automation replaces human labour and expertise, there is growing fear of being left with no option but to sell pakoras.
By constantly trying to argue that more pakora sellers on the streets is a sign of the government’s policies, the BJP runs the risk of changing its own electoral kismet.