Narendra Modi’s 2014 promises of an “achchhe din” epitomised by lower prices, enough jobs and Rs 15 lakh in every bank account may have faltered, but he seems not to have lost the interactive skills that marked his campaign that election.
The Prime Minister directed a chain of rhetorical queries at his audience at a rally in Madhya Pradesh on Saturday, just as he would ask in 2014: “Rozgar milna chahiye ki nahin, daam kam hone chahiye ki nahin (Should there be income, should prices fall)?”
Except that subjects like jobs and prices had now given way — at a time inflation has been battering citizens and unemployment has reached historic highs — to an animal that, like its cousin the leopard, tends to prize its spots.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi aims his camera at a cheetah at the park. PTI picture
“Kya main ek aagrah karun (Should I make a request)? Should I? Can we all stand up and clap in the honour of the cheetahs that have come from a faraway country? In cheeton ke samman mein taali bajaiye (Clap your hands in honour of the cheetahs),” Modi exhorted the crowd.
Most clapped dutifully, demonstrating to the Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday that his oratory retained its appeal despite all the criticism of his governance, on issues ranging from the economy to divisive politics.
The Prime Minister quickly built up the significance of the cheetahs’ arrival, from Namibia, claiming the development would strengthen the country’s resolve to build a new future for itself.
If this was a fresh jumla (figure of speech) — which is how his closest aide Amit Shah had described Modi’s Rs 15-lakh-in-every-account assertion — the Congress did its best to rain on his parade, reminding the Prime Minister of his unfulfilled promises. The party is observing Modi’s birthday as “National Unemployment Day”.
Rahul Gandhi, after greeting Modi on his birthday, posted a message along with a photograph of young men and women holding placards demanding jobs.
“Eight cheetahs have come. Now tell us, why were the promised 16 crore jobs not created in eight years? It’s a challenge from the youth: we will take the jobs, come what may,” the message said.
Rahul, leading the Bharat Jodo Yatra, interacted with the youth delegation to discuss the unemployment crisis.
Speaking at the end of the day’s leg of the Yatra, Rahul highlighted the need for peace and social harmony and recalled how the youths had enacted a dance drama to demonstrate the enormity of the joblessness.
“They showed us how promoting only two industrialists affected the job market, the pain of the struggling students and their families and ultimately the incidents of suicide,” the Congress leader said.
“On one side, there are two businessmen getting whatever they want because of their intimacy with the Prime Minister, on the other side millions of people suffer indignity because of the price rise and unemployment.
“On one side, we have the highest unemployment, on the other side, the highest prices. The PM has got eight cheetahs from Africa. This is absurd. The problems are unemployment and prices, but the Prime Minister is releasing cheetahs in the forest. He should spend his time thinking about jobs and prices but he is photographing cheetahs.”
He added: “I don’t have a problem with the cheetahs. The cheetahs have done nothing wrong. I am happy that cheetahs are being reintroduced (to Indian forests).
“But the Prime Minister should do something about prices and jobs, about the pain the people are suffering. The Bharat Jodo Yatra is to show that there is a price for not having a harmonious society. The price is the highest unemployment and the concentration of wealth in two businessmen’s hands.”
Millions of youths and many NGOs and activists flooded social media with messages on joblessness on Modi’s birthday, ensuring that the hashtags “Rashtriya Berozgari Diwas” and “National Unemployment Day” trended on Twitter through the day, gathering over 10 million tweets.
The Youth Congress staged protests across the country, frying pakodas on the streets to remind people how Modi had described selling the street snack as a form of gainful employment for educated youths.
In Delhi, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate urged Modi to focus on unemployment instead of wasting his time and energy on what she described as diversionary tactics and false propaganda.
Asked whether it was a healthy precedent for the Youth Congress to celebrate the Prime Minister’s birthday as Unemployment Day, Shrinate said: “We have respect for the Prime Minister. We wish him on his birthday. But that doesn’t mean the most important issue of the country shouldn’t be brought to his attention.”
Shrinate added: “I don’t think the BJP understands the extent of the damage being done to India’s youth and to the Indian economy. It is not going to take us just several years, it may actually end up taking us several decades to restore normalcy to the economy, and to make the youth gainfully employed. I think the BJP needs to get its head out of the sand.”
She explained the enormity of the problem: “Over 60 per cent of people in the working-age population are either unemployed or are not looking for work. In the 20-24 year age group, 42 per cent are unemployed. The Prime Minister can hide neither behind Covid, nor behind the Russia-Ukraine war, because unemployment had peaked to a 45-year high even before the first Covid case was reported.”
She added: “Modi had made tall promises about two crore jobs every year. Instead, in the last eight years, 22 crore people applied for jobs and 7 lakh were given jobs. Women’s participation in the labour market has come down from 26 per cent to 15 per cent. This is also a double whammy because it’s coming on the back of high prices and no wages.
“Modi is worried about Amit Shah’s son, Jay Shah, who was appointed BCCI secretary in 2019. His term would have ended this year but the BCCI is amending its constitution to give him employment for another three years.”
Shrinate urged a national debate on jobs.
“Each time you mention unemployment and price rise, they want to talk about unnecessary, irrelevant, distracting issues and promote disinformation,” she said.
“We have specific questions for Modi: 1. Where are the two crore annual jobs? 2. Why are 60 lakh jobs in the Centre and the state governments lying vacant? 3.
Why is it that MSMEs, which employ the maximum number of people, are at the receiving end of your flawed policies? 4. Why is it that despite praising you in public, the private sector is not willing to invest?”
In an allusion to the alleged proximity between Modi-Shah and two industrialists, she quipped: “The ‘hum do hamare do model’ can’t create jobs.”