If there was a unifying theme that captured the sentiment of the crowd at Narendra Modi’s rally in Pipli in Haryana’s dusty heartland, it was the hope of a turnaround in the dismal job market.
Nothing captured the impatience for change better than the faces in the crowd on Thursday, where Modi sought votes for Rajkumar Saini, the BJP candidate against the two-time Lok Sabha MP from Kurukshetra, Jindal Steel and Power chairman Naveen Jindal.
The audience at Pipli’s anaaj mandi (grain market) was almost entirely male, a mix of venerable taus and younger men. Nearly every individual in the latter category had been through the ritual of trying his luck at the biggest job fest in this part of the country — the Haryana and Punjab Police recruitments. Nearly all had failed.
26-year-old Manoj Rasina, who has a BA and diploma in computers, said his biggest regret was missing out on a constable’s job only for the lack of a “solid recommendation”.
Rasina, who was among the first set of people to reach the venue, was categorical that his hopes for a job and prosperity were pinned on the “impending regime change”. Two friends he had for company, Ramkaran, 22, and Sanjeev Kumar, 21, both school dropouts and jobless, agreed entirely with him.
Among the young and hopeful who had travelled long distances to be at the rally were Jasbir Singh, a BA final year student at Yamunanagar’s Mukund Lal College, and Brijpal Kumar, a “plus-two” student. They seemed not to mind either the journey or the searing afternoon heat.
A target of the anger against the UPA government was sitting MP Jindal. Several men in the crowd complained he had done little to ensure employment opportunities locally. Some said they felt insulted by the fact that the O P Jindal Global University had not come to Kurukshetra. Some others expressed the opinion that the delayed flyover near Pipli epitomised the UPA’s failings across the country.
In general, unemployment was the top concern. And even though most in the crowd were unable to explain how exactly they thought a future BJP government might change their situation, their faith lay squarely in Modi being able somehow to do the trick. That the BJP was yet to come out with a manifesto or a clear economic agenda seemed not to matter.
The faith of these men has a connection with a scary reality. National Sample Survey data for 2011-12 bears out the crisis of jobs in large parts of the semi-urban and rural hinterland, which would include places such as Pipli. The UPA’s claims of development schemes targeting rural India notwithstanding, levels of unemployment among rural youth, both male and female, was found to be much more in 2011-12 than in 2009-10, 2004-05 and 1999-2000.
More worrying in the data are trends showing the rate of unemployment increasing progressively with rising levels of education for both men and women. 16.3 per cent of urban males who were graduates or above in the age group of up to 29 years were unemployed in 2011-12 — a percentage that had worsened steadily over the preceding decade.
On Thursday, most of Pipli seemed to be in the grip of Modi’s perceived promise. Much of the town appeared to head for the mandi, shops were closed, petrol pumps were deserted, and an empty “Maruti-authorised” service offered circumstantial evidence of a “Modi wave” in the traditional Congress stronghold.
Long before Modi was to speak in the late afternoon, the mandi was full to the brim, with trucks laden with people continuing to come in. Most people at the venue said this was significant because a recent Congress roadshow had struggled to fill the same space.
Local BJP leaders, who had initially been upset over the candidature of “outsider” Saini — a former state minister who comes originally from Naraingarh in Ambala district — seemed to have given up their opposition. In any case, there was hardly any talk of the candidate or of the agenda outlined by the local party unit. All that people seemed to be able to see — and were concerned with — was a victory for Modi, and the jobs it would bring.