Krishna N. Das
KASBA BONLI, India (Reuters) – Rakesh Kumar has a post-graduate degree but works as a house painter in the small town of Kasba Bonli in northwestern India.
The 31-year-old, the only one of eight siblings to attend university, said his attempts to get a salaried job had failed, and he blamed the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not creating employment opportunities as it had promised.
“I voted for Modi last time,” said Kumar, wearing a pink shirt and wrinkled, brown trousers that had droplets of paint on it. “He had promised jobs, and I was sure I would get something. I won’t vote for him again.”
Modi’s failure to create tens of millions of jobs for the country’s youth – a promise which helped him secure the largest mandate in three decades in 2014 – would be the biggest threat to his bid for another term in a general election due by May, 2019, many political analysts say.
That seems the case in Kasba Bonli, a market town in Rajasthan state on the edge of sprawling wheat fields, which voted overwhelmingly for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at assembly elections in 2013 and the general election in 2014.
“My two sons are educated but unemployed,” said Hanuman Prasad Meena, a farmers’ leader in the town. “Many farmers voted in Modi’s name earlier, but he has no support here now.”
When Reuters visited the town in late 2013 all the talk was about Modi and how his promised business-friendly reforms would boost growth and provide jobs. But it doesn’t seem to have quite worked.
The unemployment rate in India, nearly two-thirds of whose 1.3 billion people are under 35 years old, hit its highest level in 16 months in March at 6.23 percent, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), an independent think-tank.
The difficulty in getting a reasonable job is so great that more than 25 million people applied for less than 90,000 positions recently advertised by the state-run railways.
Ram Vilas Paswan, a minister in Modi’s cabinet, said the jobs data was worrying and that the government was working to address it. He also deflected some of the blame onto provincial authorities.
“People expect only Narendra Modi to give them jobs; they have forgotten that even state governments have some role to play in creating jobs,” Paswan said in an interview
“Still, the central government is worried about it. In elections, even small issues can become a factor. The government is aware of it,” he said.
Nevertheless, Modi is still the most popular politician in the country and at the moment it seems unlikely that he will be dislodged. Nearly nine out of 10 Indians held a favourable opinion of Modi and more than two-thirds were satisfied with the direction he was taking the country, according to a Pew survey in November.
The BJP or its partners rule 21 out of 29 states, up from just seven in 2014. The once-mighty Congress party is in opposition in New Delhi and controls only three states.
Krishna N. Das