It keeps getting harder every day for the government to drive its narrative that ample jobs are being created. They sound increasingly silly as they try to defend the indefensible, says Mahesh Vyas.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
In the past few years the government has fought a hard battle to control the narrative on jobs.
But, the problem is too big to be controlled by the government and its apologists.
CMIE surveys regularly show the deteriorating situation on the jobs front. Leaks of government surveys point in the same direction.
It keeps getting harder every day for the government to drive its narrative that ample jobs are being created.
They sound increasingly silly as they try to defend the indefensible.
But, the issue of employment is not merely a subject for statisticians and the government to battle in television studios or in newspaper columns.
It is an important issue among voters. And, apparently, people are not fooled.
A recent report based on a survey published by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) is revealing.
Unlike the household surveys conducted by CMIE or NSSO, the Association for Democratic Reforms conducts a survey of voters.
Its sample is therefore selected from parliamentary constituencies.
The survey covered 534 out of the 543 constituencies. Its sample is large at 273,487 voters.
The survey was conducted from October 2018 to December 2018.
Results were published in February 2019.
The survey presented 31 issues to the voters and asked them to pick the top five issues that should be the government's priority.
Each of these five top priorities had to be ranked in terms of their importance.
They had seven specific questions for rural India. These were regarding availability of loans, electricity, water and subsidies; and price realisation, sand and stone quarrying and water pollution.
There were five specific issues listed for urbanites - traffic congestion, water and air pollution, noise pollution, facilities for cyclists and mining.
The remaining 19 issues were common for rural and urban voters.
Of these, three were related to employment.
These were - better employment opportunities, reservation for jobs and education, and training for jobs.
But, employment as an issue was embedded in several other fairly important issues that voters face in daily life.
These included four issues regarding security - terrorism, strong military, law and order, and, security of women.
There were four issues listed related to infrastructure such as public transport, roads, electricity, garbage collection and encroachment.
There were three on basic services such as health, education and water and another two on food. Eradication of corruption was listed separately as well.
Evidently, this was not a survey on employment/unemployment.
It was a survey to find the important issues that matter to the voter.
And the voter has made clear that the topmost issue in his/her mind today is better employment opportunities.
About 46.8 per cent of the respondents listed better employment opportunities as one of the top five issues.
The ADR questionnaire asks the respondent to list the top five issues from the list of 31 issues described above.
What is also important to note here is that in a similar survey in 2017, better employment opportunities did figure in one of the top five concerns even then.
The difference is that in 2017 only 30 per cent of the respondents considered this to be a top priority.
Now, nearly 47 per cent believe so.
The next most important issue is better health care services which had a distant 34.6 per cent respondents identifying it as one of the top five priorities.
The ADR report lists the top 10 issues that figure in the voters’ top five concerns.
This list is revealing in one interesting way.
Terrorism or the need for a strong military did not figure in this list.
The only security concern that voters had in the top 10 issues was of the need for better law and order and policing.
Voters worry about the threat to their own security locally more than the problems from across our national borders.
Even this local law and order problem ranked tenth.
People need jobs, health services, drinking water, better roads and better public transport. These are the top five concerns of the voters.
Voters also believe that the government is handling the jobs problem pretty badly.
On a scale of 1-5 where a higher score implies better performance by the government, voters, on an average, ranked the government's performance at 2.15.
This is not only below average but is also among the worst on performance compared to other factors.
Further, the government's efforts at hiding its own data and rubbishing other data has worked against it.
In the 2017 survey, the government's efforts to address the employment problem got a higher score of 3.17.
The government needs to worry about employment and about what people think about its record on solving this problem.
Obfuscation of data and management of the narrative is evidently counterproductive.
Mahesh Vyas is the MD & CEO of CMIE