• Red Fort Speech: You Forgot Jobs, Mr. Modi! And, Education

    Subodh Varma

    August 17, 2018

    As expected, Prime Minister Modi’s customary speech on Independence Day was all about himself (he used ‘I’ and ‘my’ 208 times) and his govt.’s ‘achievements’ in the past four and a half years. But, sadly, that’s par for the course for prime ministers and other leaders, especially if an election is around the corner. It was crushingly boring and monotonous, but that’s because the same list of schemes – and hollow bragging rights – have been repeated endlessly in recent months by the govt. or its apologist media.

    But towards the end, as the Prime Minister was winding up, he spelt out a sort of capsule vision of what he wants the people of India to get in the future, a kind of mantra or manifesto for the coming days. This is what he said:

    “Let every Indian have a house of his own – Housing for All. Every house should have electricity connection, power for all. Every Indian should be free from smoke in kitchen and that is why there is the scheme for Cooking Gas for All. Every Indian should have enough water to meet his needs and that is why there is the scheme for Water for All. Every Indian should have toilets and therefore Sanitation for All. Every Indian should be skilled, so Skill for All. Every Indian should get good and affordable health services, so Health for All. Every Indian should feel safe, every Indian should be insured, hence ‘Insurance for All’. Every Indian should get internet services so, Connectivity for All; we want to take the country forward by following this mantra.”

    Housing, Cooking Gas, Water, Sanitation, Skills and Insurance – for all. Do you find something missing in this? What about jobs for all – or at least for most? And, education for all?

    Jobs and education are two of the most crisis affected areas on which the Modi govt.’s failure is staggering. In Modi’s vision of the future, his agenda so to speak, he finds no place for these, no thoughts, no assurances – nothing. 

    Jobs

    If you heard the speech – or you want to check it out again in print – there was no mention of the single biggest problem this country is facing – lack of jobs.

    As reported recently, the total number of employed persons in India has fallen to 397.5 million in June this year, compared to 408.4 million in January 2017. Earlier reports – including those put out by the RBI– have indicated similar decline in 2014 and 2015. That means the Modi era has been marked by one of the most severe jobs crisis in recent years. The declining growth in bank credit to industry, the flagging Index of Industrial Production, the widening trade deficit and the systemic farming crisis pushing more and more people into the army of jobless means that this unbridled jobs-crisis is haunting the whole country without any hope of rescue.

    Yet our Prime Minister has no word of reassurance for the people on this count. It is possible – to take a charitable view – that Modi thinks that there is no jobs crisis. Repeatedly, he and his ministers have doled out numbers that supposedly show the number of jobs created across the economy. Perhaps, the govt. has not tuned in to the trenchant criticism these manufactured data have invited. 

    Or perhaps, Modi is feeling reluctant to repeat what he had promised five years ago during the run up to the 2014 general election – that his govt. would create 1 crore jobs every year. Saying the same thing again would be a dead giveaway that he hasn’t delivered on this key promise. After all, it was this exuberant promise of his that drew people in hordes to him.

    Education

    What is strange is that Modi’s vision for the coming days also has no mention of education for all. He couldn’t possibly be under the impression that education has become accessible to all. Dropout rates at the secondary level are still sky high at about 28% for boys and 32% for girls. Gross enrolment ratio for higher education is around 25% after including distance education. The total number of children who are out of school is still 62 million, as per latest reports. 

    Meanwhile, Modi’s reign has seen cuts in budgetary allocation for education, especially school education. Increasing dependence on private funding for education has aggravated the accessibility problem because poor students are unable to afford the high fees charged by private education ‘shops’. In many BJP run states schools are being merged in the name of rationalisation of resources. This is depriving many students from attending schools especially in remote areas.

    Yet Mr.Modi has no words or thoughts to offer anything on education to the country. He does mention skills but the skill development program launched with much fanfare by his govt. has ‘imparted’ skills to lakhs of people without any hope of jobs. In any case, skill is not the same as education. Perhaps, Modi does not consider standard education of any value. Or he thinks that such education is best left to NGOs (like the RSS run Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and Ekal Vidyalayas) or business houses. Whatever be the case, his silence is a dangerous portent. It displays a cavalier attitude that will destroy the prospects of generations to come.

    Modi’s silence on jobs and education on what amounted to an election manifesto for the coming elections will cause deep disappointment to the people of the country. Sending Indians into space, getting recognition in international bodies and such other grand visions – probably driven by a bizarre desire to be applauded by the world – will not assuage those who are unable to find jobs or attend schools and colleges. Rhetoric and bombast cannot replace work on the ground that serves the people. For this, Modi and his party may well have to pay a heavy price in the coming electoral battles.


     

    First published in Newsclick.

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