‘Pakodanomics’, the right to work, unemployment data and student protests and movements were some of the themes on which students raised questions as they put their youth political leaders on the hot seat during a public meet on employment issues held here on Saturday.
A packed hall of students in Gandhi Bhavan’s Bapu Hall in Kumara Park kicked things off in the morning with political songs as they welcomed Gururaj Desai from the Student Federation of India (SFI), Surabhi Dwivedi from the National Students' Union of India (NSUI) and Ashish Chauhan from Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) to start the first panel discussion.
Asha Kotwal of the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM), the moderator of the first session, began the discussion by asking the speakers to express their views on the recent row over the ‘leaked’ National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data which has pegged India’s unemployment rate at 6.1% during the 2017-2018 period.
In her opening remarks, Surabhi from NSUI condemned the government for its attempt at data suppression and asserted that the youth of the country is frustrated and “fed-up” with the government’s “fake promises”.
“We have a Prime Minister who advocates for Pakodanomics. At the risk of being charged for sedition, I’d like to ask, How’s the josh? Where are the jobs?” she questioned.
However, Chauhan retorted by underplaying the issue as he argued that the problem of unemployment is not unique to us and is happening all over the world.
“We are debating one report which is not even officially released yet. If you see the International Labor Organisation (ILO) reports, it has pegged the official unemployment rate at around 3.6-3.7 %. Our economic growth in the past five years has been tremendous while inflation has halved. Meanwhile, there are crores of jobs that have been created according to EPF data. We can further improve the employment situation by implementing the Kothari Commission recommendations and strengthening Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas of ‘Bunyadi’ (Foundational) education,” asserted Chauhan.
Ashish’s statistics were then rebutted by Desai of SFI who claimed that according to central government data, 1.15 crore youth pass out of colleges every year but only around 5 Lakh manage to find employment.
“Instead of adding employment to education and healthcare, the Modi government is experimenting with us through contractual employment wherein temporary workers with no job security get paid half of what the permanent workers are paid for doing for the same amount of work. Modi and Rahul Gandhi have both made a lot of statements and though ‘surgical strikes’, ‘acche din’ and ‘beti bachao’ are catchy slogans, the youth shouldn’t be swayed,“ he argued.
During the question-answer round with the students, speakers were questioned about how their political parties plan to improve the employment situation in India.
Dwivedi from NSUI said that some suggestions by Congress in light of upcoming elections included advocating for creating a student right’s commission on the lines of the national women’s commission and granting of unemployment allowances while Desai argued for employment to be guaranteed and strengthened as a fundamental right.
The audience also broke into raucous laughter at one point during the Q & A when Chauhan from NSUI was asked by a student as to when PM Modi will be sending Rs 15 Lakh to his bank account and when the Ganga will be cleaned.
Chauhan responded to the question by saying that the government is making efforts to bring back illicit cash that is stashed abroad. He then asserted that the Ganga has been cleaned which again invited hysterical laughter from the crowd.
“I went to Prayagraj on the occasion of Vasant Panchami and I assure you that you can take a dip at the Triveni Sangam. Why are Siberian birds coming back to India after decades? Did PM Modi send them Visas?” he asked.
Another panel discussion on student movements was also held post lunch. The panel discussions were organized by Azim Premji University’s Centre for Sustainable Employment and Samvada, a collective that works on youth issues.