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Policy Rejig

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The opposition raises unemployment as a major issue whenever it targets the Modi Government. The latest twist in this tale is the controversy over the Agnipath scheme. This is primarily done not so much from actually finding solutions but obtaining votes for election time from frustrated youth.

In the traditional socialist sense, jobs are provided by the government, either directly, or through make work schemes like MNREGA. Policies are theoretically supposed to lead to the development of industry and creation of jobs. Easier said than done in the present day context! Automation is the way modern industry is developing around the world, so growth in several sectors does not necessarily imply increase in the number of jobs. In even traditional industries, many jobs are going obsolete. So, the issue cannot be looked at in the old way and for politicians to raise the subject without taking the reality into account is misleading, to say the least.

At the same time, it is also that many new jobs are being created requiring specific sets of skills, particularly in the service sector. The entire system, involving government and the private sector, needs to recognise what these new opportunities are and contribute to preparing an appropriate workforce. The rapid rise in India’s population, which was not so long ago sought to be checked, is being described today as a ‘demographic dividend’. Except that, without skills, many young people are haplessly looking for the same old increasingly redundant jobs.

It was believed that the increase in the cost of living, limited resources and the desire for upward mobility would discourage people from having more children. However, this has led to distortions of various kinds (not just the increasing gender gap). ‘Lack of jobs’ is also an unfortunate consequence of unthinking population growth.

It is important for the political establishment, therefore, to be clear on the strategy to be adopted on job creation. It is dangerous for the nation as a whole to have some influential politicians harping on about outdated models of employment generation. They should stop defining jobs as white collar ones. The definition of entrepreneurship should be expanded to the micro level, with even the street vendor looked at as a businessperson. Education should be provided of the kind that teaches the basic nature of commercial activity and inculcates a sense of self-reliance. Young people should be encouraged to engage in cooperative efforts to exploit even the smallest business opportunities. Lifestyles need to be developed that go beyond the old concepts of social status and focus on new definitions of quality of life. Vigorous competition in such circumstances will lead to growth in the desired direction, instead of the present stagnation and lack of enterprise. Aspirations without effort are worthless.