Travels through the Hindi belt: Bihar's unemployed keep faith in Modi, mainly due to lack of credible Opposition
According to the Centre of Monitoring Indian Economy's report of December 2018, Bihar's overall unemployment rate is 10.9 percent, far above India's 6.8, as of 27 March
The crisis of jobs is soaring, especially among the educated youth, and they are angry. But the anger may not necessarily translate into votes for the Opposition
Among those still smitten by Modi, some blame the system for holding him back. For example, 'Corrupt bankers ensured demonetisation was a failure' is commonly peddled as a defence
Meanwhile, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has largely been ineffective in getting the fence-sitters on his side
Editor's note: This is part of a multi-article series on the jobs crisis in the three states crucial to Lok Sabha election 2019: Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Four young men sit around a carrom board, deeply engrossed in their game. They are at an under-construction building in a town in Bihar on a Wednesday afternoon. Around eight more of their friends are intently watching the game. A worn-out iron stand is laid out in the middle of a dusty space under the building, which is in its preliminary stage of construction. The game ends and the tea vendor near the building walks in with a kettle, and small plastic cups. During the tea break, this reporter asks the young men what they do for a living. "If we did something for a living, would we be playing carrom in the middle of a weekday?" replies Anil Kumar Sahni, 28, "You will find people like us across Bihar."
The tea vendor dismisses Sahni's assertions. "If the person is willing to work hard, and is qualified, nobody can stop them from getting a job. The crisis of unemployment is overstated."
Sahni takes it personally. "I am a postgraduate," he says in a caustic tone, "I have been looking for a job for years. Tell me how many vacancies have we had in the government sector? Are there any private industries coming up? I even tried to get into the CRPF and BSF."
A heated debated ensues, and neither of them are willing to concede each other's points. The rest of the boys, mostly non-Yadav OBCs and EBCs, quietly look on. Eventually, they find one thing they can agree upon: Narendra Modi deserves another chance as prime minister.
The scenario at Mathurapur in the outskirts of Darbhanga, a town 200 kilometres northeast of Patna, by and large sums up the wider sentiment in Bihar. In this state, caste identities probably matter more than the rest of India. The upper caste, Baniyas and Rajputs, are firm with BJP, just as they have traditionally been. Yadavs and Muslims are more consolidated with the RJD and Congress than ever before. The swing vote in Bihar is usually the non-Yadav OBCs and the EBCs.
However, the first-time voters, and the youths that fall in the aspirational class form a critical factor as well, for they are more likely to go beyond caste identities than their parents. In Modi's resounding victory of 2014, the youth had played an instrumental role, after he had promised to create two crore jobs. The promise never materialised.
According to the Centre of Monitoring Indian Economy's report of December 2018, Bihar's overall unemployment rate is 10.9 percent, far above India's 6.8, as of 27 March. The unemployment rate among graduates of India is 13.2 per cent, and those who have studied between 10-12th standard, it is 10.6 per cent. But in Bihar, the unemployment rate among graduates is 19.4 per cent, and among those who have studied between Class 10 and 12, it's 18.6 percent.
The crisis of jobs is soaring, especially among educated youth, and they are angry. But the anger may not necessarily translate into votes for the Opposition. It is a combination of Modi's popularity and the lack of an alternative credible face. "There is no doubt Modi has not delivered on his promises," says Sahni, "But there is nobody in the Opposition who can reassure us of a turnaround. Modi is the best we have got. Through your medium, we request him to look at our issues in his next tenure."
Among those still smitten by Modi, some blame the system for holding him back. For example, "Corrupt bankers ensured demonetisation was a failure" is commonly peddled as a defence. But the successes are solely attributed to Modi. Balakot was "Modi's message to Pakistan". They acknowledge a lack of employment opportunities in the state, but, "When have jobs not been an issue?"
Rajiv Choudhary, 25, has completed his BTech, but spends his time getting fodder for the livestock on the farm his family rears in the village of Darhar in Darbhanga. "I have become a burden on my family. There are no job opportunities here," he says, "But if there is anyone who can solve the problem, it is Modi. Except for job creation, he has been a good prime minister. He taught a lesson to Pakistan by bombing their territory. He sent a strong message. He has enhanced India's image in the world. When he goes abroad, he can convince people to invest in India. That will create jobs."
However, the majority is sticking with Modi, in spite of being disillusioned with his performance, because "Vikalp Nahi hai". Eventually, it boils down to, "Prime minister kaun banega?" People are okay voting against BJP's alliance partners for the state Assembly, but "Yeh Delhi ka chunav hai". Notwithstanding India's federal structure, elections here are getting increasingly presidential. People are like to vote for a face. And the Opposition doesn’t have one.
"Do you think Rahul Gandhi can make a good prime minister?" asks Vijay Kumar, from the village of Rajani in Madhepura district of North Bihar. He has been looking for a job since 2011, and has completed his BA. "The Mahagathbandhan will be busy fighting among itself. It has come together because the individual parties are weak against Modi. Why vote for the weaker option? I would have surely voted for the Opposition if they had a face who comforted me. I do not like the BJP as a party. They are a bunch of corrupt people."
In that sense, Congress president Rahul has largely been ineffective in getting the fence-sitters on his side. Kumari Sanam from Madhepura says Rahul has shown signs of improvement. "But he is not there yet," she says, adding she will need a job soon, and cannot be on the lookout forever like men. "Rahul will likely be ready by 2024. Until then, let us give Modi another chance," she offers.
In the 2014 General Election, the BJP-led NDA in Bihar had won 31 seats of the 40, riding the Modi wave. What is even noteworthy is that Nitish Kumar’s JDU wasn't even a part of the NDA in 2014. A strong regional satrap is in the alliance's ranks as well. Five years later, nobody expects the alliance to retain 31 constituencies. But the dent may not be as significant as the Opposition would have hoped for.
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