A member of the National Students Union of India, the student wing of India's opposition Congress party, holds a placard during a demonstration against the increase in lawlessness and unemployment in India under the the ruling alliance led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. Photo: AFP

Last week Ajay Singh Bisht, aka Yogi Adityanath, the monk-cum-chief minister of India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh, told the legislature that annualized growth in gross state domestic product (GSDP) declined to 6.4% in the 2017-18 financial year.

GSDP represents economic production and growth of a state. “When Gross domestic product increases, companies can afford to hire more people and pay higher wages. As a result, spending power goes up. If wages decline, or bank interest rates and inflation increase, consumers reduce their expenses and GDP declines,” said Madhura Joshi, professor of economics at a Mumbai college.

“Reduction in government spending such as construction of public property like roads, hospitals, etc leads to a drop in growth and increases unemployment,” Joshi added.

Uttar Pradesh’s GSDP had grown by 7.3% and 8.8% in 2016-17 and 2015-16 respectively, when the Samajwadi Party was in power. But this decline in GSDP is not the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government’s only headache.

Home to around 220 million people, or 16% of the country’s population, Uttar Pradesh is also grappling with a job crisis worse than ever before. The state sends the largest number of legislators to India’s Parliament and has a major say in who forms the federal government. With general elections less than a year away, the state is crucial for the BJP.

UP Labor Minister Swamy Prasad Maurya told the state legislature last week that there were 2.14 million unemployed persons in the state as of June, which was higher compared with the previous year. He did not quote the 2016-17 figures, however.

The 2.14-million figure only includes the job seekers registered at the government’s employment portal. Officials estimate that around 10 million people are currently unemployed in Uttar Pradesh. The state’s unemployment rate was higher than the national average in 2017.

These statistics come at a time when diesel and gasoline prices are at record highs, the value of Indian currency is at the lowest and interest rates are high. This has fueled speculations that the economic growth rate will drop further and lead to more unemployment.

“Demonetization, the BJP’s move to ban currency notes of 1,000 and 500 rupees overnight in 2016, and the goods and services tax, implemented in July 2017, have destroyed traditional businesses across the state, leading to drastic job losses,” Samajwadi Party spokesman Sunil Singh Sajan said.

“Many of them are yet to recover from twin shocks. Now, the government claims that new investment projects will generate jobs. But none of the banks have disbursed any big loans in Uttar Pradesh, which exposes BJP’s falsehood. Things will get worse as the monk chief minister lacks vision and competency to lead the state.”

By the state government’s own admission in the assembly, more than 63,000 young people were provided jobs in the private sector out of the 150,000 who were trained at skill centers. The government claimed that the recruitment of 80,000 teachers was also under way. But these figures remain paltry in front of the BJP’s promise of 7 million jobs in five years, which works out at 1.4 million jobs annually.

“BJP’s misadventures have ruined the state’s economy in [the] shortest ever time. The party had promised during elections that it [would] fill all government vacancies and provide jobs to lakhs [hundreds of thousands] of people within 90 days. They did neither,” Congress legislator Deepak Singh said.

Singh added that agriculture, constituting 66% of the state workforce, “is under stress due to rising costs of diesel, fertilizers and seeds. Most infra projects announced by the government haven’t taken off. Besides, [the] policy of hiring contractual workers on much less pay in place of retired government employees has led to a decrease in disposable income.”

Rising crime

Crime against women in UP is also at an all-time high. Figures provided by the government in the assembly in March showed a 25% increase in rapes, a 40% rise in molestation cases and a 35% jump in kidnappings of women between April 2017 and January 2018, compared with the corresponding period in 2016-17, under the Samajwadi Party government. The Home portfolio is held by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

Law and order, considered key for attracting investment in the backward state, was the BJP’s chief poll plank in the 2017 assembly election. However, Yogi, whose selection as chief minister raised many eyebrows within the BJP and otherwise, has not been able to break the criminals-politicians nexus so far. Corruption is also rampant, as his own colleagues acknowledge.

The government claims that projects worth 600 billion rupees (US$10 billion), committed to during investor meets in February, are being initiated and will generate employment for 3.3 million people. The opposition Congress party has, however, called these investments meaningless, saying the government hasn’t ensured allocation for locals.

Uttar Pradesh accounts for the most seats – 80 out of 543 – in the lower house of India’s Parliament, making it key to a win in national elections. The state is also crucial for the BJP, accounting for 68 of its 274 seats (roughly one-fourth) in the house.

The BJP swept Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 national election and again during state polls in 2017, but it lost two supposedly “safe seats” in a by-election early this year. The defeats were credited to the party’s declining popularity, within a year of coming to power in the state.

People aged 15-29 years, many of whom are first-time voters, comprise around 28% of the state’s population, and observers say their anger will impact the parliamentary election in 2019.

Craze for government jobs

In the tough job market, even the lowest-ranking job in the government is considered “great” and “safe.” In August, 62 posts for telecom messengers, a low-level job, were advertised by Uttar Pradesh police. Such is the dearth of jobs in the state that more than 93,000 applicants responded, including 3,700 PhD holders, 28,000 postgraduates and 50,000 graduates.

Applicants were required to have passed fifth grade to be eligible for the post, with a starting salary of 20,000 rupees ($300) a month.

“The craze for government jobs has gone up since the implementation of [the] seventh pay commission last year. Now, the government’s pay package is more lucrative than the private sector’s,” said a senior journalist in the state capital Lucknow, Shailendra Singh.

And to make thing worse, even government hiring is under stress. While a large number of posts are vacant because of a cash crunch, appointment of hundreds of recruited persons is stuck in bureaucracy. Some recruitment is also stalled because of exam question-paper leaks and court strictures.

Asia Times reached out to Avaneesh Awasthi, additional chief secretary of the Information Department and state government spokesman, but he declined to comment.

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