Indore: Daily-wage workers, many of them construction site labourers, have lined up at Indore’s Chandan Nagar crossing in search of work. They wait for thekedars or contractors to arrive and recruit them for the day. But it’s almost 10 am, and many workers present here are yet to find assignments. Some are on their feet, while others have found places to sit on parked motorbikes or roundabouts, or are squatting on the footpath. They wait, chatting with each other, fiddling with their mobile phones, smoking bidis and cigarettes or staring at the busy junction.
Cutting across castes and political beliefs, they share a common concern: inflation and inadequate employment opportunities, the end result of which has been a falling standard of life.
“The BJP government is building roads and bridges one after the another. But the poor are becoming poorer while the rich are only growing. We are not even getting a proper mazdoori (wage),” said Dinesh Khote, a Dalit labourer who lives in a slum in Indore. Khote says the increasing cost of living is making it difficult for him to raise his family.
“Earlier, if we earned Rs 500 we could eat to our heart’s content. But now even Rs. 1,000 is not sufficient to run the house,” he said.
Some distance away, Sonu Chandel, a migrant worker from Guna district in the Gwalior-Chambal region, shares the cynicism. Little has changed for the better in his life in the last few years, Sonu says.
On average, he finds employment only 8-10 days a month and if lucky, gets paid Rs 800-1,000 for the day’s work. From that he spends Rs. 5,000 for his rented apartment. There are days when he has to return home with no work. “It’s almost 10 am and look at the number of people still standing here, waiting,” he said.
His friend Dinesh, a Thakur youth who migrated to Indore from Khandwa district, rues the fact that he is no longer able to save money these days. Like almost everyone present at the crossing, Sonu blames the BJP government for failing to change employment conditions. Dinesh is much more sympathetic towards the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government but admits that unemployment is a major point of concern. “There is a lot of unemployment. Otherwise, other things are fine,” he said.
As Madhya Pradesh prepares to vote on November 17, the issue of employment weighs heavily upon the Chouhan government.
While voting depends on a multitude of factors and complicated regional and state-level calculations, what’s unmissable as one moves in the state are the common grievances of inflation and unemployment. In fact, these two related issues are among the most common factors mentioned by critics of the Shivraj government for voting against it.
Be it the construction workers in Indore, cotton-yarn factory staff in Sehore, the illiterate daily-wage labourer in Sagar or the government job applicants across regions, the Chouhan government, which claims to have transformed MP from a BIMARU (an abbreviation for Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, considered low on key prosperity indicators) to a bemisaal state in 18 years of rule, is facing difficult questions when it comes to livelihood. The Congress is banking on the discontent of the youth and unemployed people for change in power, and a major line of its attack against the BJP has been raising the numerous cases of irregularities, termed ‘scams’ by the opposition and media, in recruitment for government jobs. The alleged corruption in the recruitment process under the BJP, the Congress says, has impeded the process of providing employment to educated youth.
In its election manifesto, the Congress has promised it will bring in a law to better manage recruitments, ‘MP Sarkari Bharti Kanoon’, and provide Rs 1,500 to Rs, 3,000 monthly stipend to unemployed youth, if voted to power. The party has drawn attention to the fact that the last few years of the Chouhan government have been marred by paper leaks in competitive exams, examinations not being conducted as per law and results not being declared due to legal disputes. A new law would be brought in to ensure that “such incidents are not repeated in future and there is transparency in government recruitment,” the Congress said in its manifesto.
The promise of a proposed recruitment law appeals to government job aspirants, many of whom have since 2021 been demanding such a measure at the state-level.
“Jab match hi fixed hai, koi khelke matlab nahi (What use is it playing a game when the outcome is already manipulated),” said Kapil Jat, a government job aspirant from Sehore. His statement reveals the disenchantment created among the youth by the irregularities and frauds in recruitment processes for government jobs under the Chouhan government in its last two terms.
In 2021, a year after the Chouhan government wrested power back from the Congress through mass defections, Jat had appeared for the examination for the post of Rural Agricultural Extension Officer or RAEO.
However, the examination, along with two other tests, Senior Agricultural Development Officer and nursing, was cancelled after the question paper was leaked. The paper had been downloaded in an unauthorised manner, said officials. The exam was held again but Jat failed to qualify and generally lost motivation. What bothers him more is that the culprits behind the leak were not punished. Jat, who holds an MSc degree in agriculture, is working as a guest teacher in a school in Dewas. But he is not content with his job he took up in desperation. “I’m earning only Rs. 9,000. Had the RAEO exams been held in a fair manner I could have qualified and started with a salary of Rs 35,000. These [scams in recruitment process] are really causing us big harm and wasting precious years of our life,” he said.
‘Clear fraud’: More examination irregularities
While the infamous Vyapam Scam in pre-medical recruitment stained Chouhan’s government from 2013-2018, his tenure from 2020 was hit by allegations of fresh irregularities in other examinations. To name a few, the recruitment of contractual nursing staff under the National Health Mission and the recruitment process of Patwaris (revenue department staffers). The “Patwari Recruitment Scam”, as it was labelled by the Congress, came to light after it was found that seven out of the top 10 candidates who had taken the online examination for the recruitment came from the same exam centre in Gwalior, a college run by a BJP MLA.
Later, it was also found that the toppers in the examination didn’t know answers to basic questions and many of those who had scored high marks in English had signed in Hindi. Facing a demand by the Congress for a CBI inquiry, Chouhan in July put a stay on the appointment of the successful candidates. The scam is being investigated by a retired High Court judge.
In another case, in June, police booked more than 70 government school teachers in Morena district after it was found that they were appointed under the disability quota allegedly after securing disability certificates fraudulently. In 2022, candidates who appeared for the MP TET (Teacher Eligibility Test) and police recruitment examination staged a protest outside the state’s staff election board, alleging irregularities.
Harshit Bishnoi (30) of Harda district, 150 km south of Bhopal, was among the 10 lakh applicants who sat for the examination in 2022 to fill 8,500 seats for Patwaris. He secured 145 marks in the Patwari examination, falling short of the cut-off for selection by one mark. But he believes that he couldn’t make it as the exams were not conducted in a fair manner. “There was clear fraud,” he said, adding that he had challenged the answers to three questions in court.
Deterred by the scam in the Patwari recruitment, Bishnoi has shifted attention to preparing for the job of a police sub-inspector. He performs fairly well in the mock tests. But a vacancy for the sub-inspector post has not been advertised in the last few years, he said.
“The result is that our careers get pushed back by at least five years. The last patwari exam was in 2017 and then 2022. Even those who get selected in these exams go through unease as they think that even if they qualify, there will be some fraud that will obstruct their recruitment.”
Aspirants also said that corruption allegations against the BJP government had a direct bearing on the career options of the youth as they involved recruitment for government jobs.
Also, what’s different between the Vyapam scam in Chouhan’s previous government and the scams in the present government (2020-2023) is that the appointments under scanner today impact a wider range of people, including those from poorer and agrarian families, says Ranjit Raghunath, a recruitment activist, who has been campaigning in the state for the last three years for a law to check anomalies in such examination processes.
“The scams in the present government impact a large range of people. It directly impacts the people in the villages and farming families,” said Raghunath (28).
Raghunath, who is associated with the National Educated Youth Union (NEYU), a body that came into being following the growing discontent against recruitment scams, entered activism following his own bad experience. With a dream of becoming an agricultural officer, in 2021 he sat for the examination of the AREO which was cancelled due to paper leak. Raghunath hails from a farming background in Dewas. His father sold wawa for living.
The cancellation of the exam due to paper leak made him doubt the credibility of the exams under the current system, and eventually motivated him to search for a “permanent solution.” “Cancelling a particular exam is not the answer. All these scamsters enjoy some patronage, although I cannot say at what level,” he said.
The NEYU has demanded that an independent state recruitment commission be constituted for recruitment purposes, and that the CBI or an SIT investigate such scams whenever they surface. The NEYU, which submitted a draft of a proposed law to both the main parties, also wants the government to provide Rs. 5,000 as monetary assistance per month to each unemployed youth if they are without a job even a year after graduation or post-graduation.
‘Only the rich get selected’: Big setbacks and disillusionment
To tap into the anger among the unemployed and under-employed youth, the Congress has promised to implement a Right to Employment in the state and fill two lakh vacant posts as soon as possible, if voted to power. The party said it would run a campaign to fill the posts of teachers, patwaris, police personnel, Anganwadi workers, nurses and forest guards left vacant in the last 18 years of BJP rule.
The Congress has also promised to probe the irregularities and corruption in the recruitment process under the BJP government through a commission headed by a retired high court judge and launch a fresh investigation into the high-profile Vyapam scam as well as the Patwari scam.
Job aspirants The Wire spoke to said that the repeated cases of corruption in recruitment examinations have created a climate where they have started questioning the credibility of such tests. “’If an exam is held under this government, there is likely to be some irregularity or fraud that will come up,’ this is the common refrain among students and aspirants,” said an aspirant.
Raghunath further said that the scams have sent a negative message to the families of the aspirants, many of whom are from farming and working-class backgrounds, that their sons and daughters could not get selected for government jobs due to the corruption. “They have started to believe that seats are sold and only the rich get selected,” Raghunath said.
In March this year, the government informed the MP Assembly that the state had 39 lakh registered unemployed persons, a big jump from the 25.8 lakh unemployed persons as on April 1, 2022, majority of them from the Other Backward Classes, reported Times of India. Throughout her MP campaign, Congress national general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has claimed that in the past three years, the BJP government only provided 21 government jobs, although a recent report in The Indian Express suggested that the government pegged the number at 61,000 as it included numbers from its skill-development schemes.
In September, Chouhan promised that if the BJP retained power in the state, it would provide a job to each household.
Such statements have done little to appease voters like Inder Bai Chauhan in Sehore district. She recently lost her job at a cotton spinning unit and has been unemployed since. She has not even been paid her dues, despite several protests by workers. After a decade of work, Inder Bai had managed to climb the ranks and was earning a salary of Rs 14,000 per month.
The much-publicised Ladli Behna flagship scheme of Chouhan, under which eligible adult women get a monthly stipend of Rs. 1,000 (now increased to Rs. 1,250) provides her no solace. “How will we run our house in Rs. 1000?” she asked.
While unemployment and rising costs of living have upset voters across the spectrum, how much of it translates into votes in favour of the Opposition Congress, is something only the results on December 3 will reveal given the tight fight between the two parties. Many voters indicated that despite the financial crunch, when it came to voting, they could consider other factors as well. Bishnoi said despite his resentment, the BJP was the “best among the worst.” A construction worker, Mahendra, struggling to find regular work in Indore, said the law and order had improved under the BJP rule.
The Congress, however, expects the issue to play out in its favour.
Congress leader Shobha Oza said unemployment was a big issue in this election and accused the BJP of sending the education system in the state for a toss. “The dreams of these applicants have received a big setback,” she told The Wire.
Pankaj Chaturvedi, BJP spokesperson, however, said that from 2020 to 2023, the government had taken steps to provide 1 lakh jobs each year and initiated measures such as SKY (Seekho Kamao Yojana) for skill development and on-the-job training. “While the BJP is sincerely trying to resolve the issue of unemployment and training the youth to not just get jobs but also become job creators, the Congress still talks about providing berozgari bhatta (unemployment doles) to these youth,” said Chaturvedi.
The BJP could also find some solace in the falling unemployment rate in the state. The annual report of the Periodic Labour Force Survey published by the National Sample Survey Office for the period July 2022 to June 2023 said that MP had an unemployment rate of 4.4. The unemployment rate in the urban areas was 13.1.
In comparison, the unemployment rate during the period 2018-19 was 10.4, with urban unemployment rate at 21.9.
On October 11, the BJP released its election manifesto, making a slew of welfare promises directed at farmers and women. However, there was hardly any mention of dealing with unemployment. All that BJP President J.P Nadda said at the launch of the manifesto was that if voted back to power the government would provide job opportunities to “almost every family” in the government sector or self-employment. Otherwise, much of his address was directed at comparing the BJP’s two decades in power in MP with the previous governments run by the Congress. The per capita income of MP had increased from Rs. 11,717 in 2003 to Rs. 1.40 lakh in 2023, he said. To further push his narrative, Nadda said he was surprised to find that Rewa in the Vindhya region of the state had purchased the highest number of motorbikes in the country. “This shows how much the purchasing power of the farmers has increased,” said Nadda.
Soon after the BJP released its manifesto, Kamal Nath, the Congress chief minister candidate, took a dig at the BJP through a post on X where he listed the top five promises made by his party to voters. The issue of jobs was at number two.
“The Congress is going to fill two lakh vacant posts. What are you doing,” Nath asked.
Meanwhile, the NEYU is appealing to students and youngsters to make their resentment felt through voting. How much of it reflects in an anti-incumbency vote, the EVMs will reveal on December 3.