Step back from parochialism | HT Editorial
Madhya Pradesh (MP) chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has announced that all government jobs in the state would, henceforth, be reserved only for the “children” of MP, and relevant laws would be framed for this purpose. He has also added that MP’s “children” will have the first right over the state’s resources. His predecessor, Kamal Nath, promised that 70% of the jobs in industrial units would be reserved for locals. But MP is, of course, not unique in this regard. From Haryana to Gujarat, from Maharashtra to Karnataka, across Indian states, there is either a policy framework which reserves educational seats and/or jobs for locals or there is a strong political push in that direction.
The fact that this cry — jobs for locals — has become a widespread refrain is understandable. There is a severe crisis of unemployment, and both public and private sector jobs have either shrunk or not grown at the pace required to meet the demands of India’s growing workforce. Instead of addressing structural economic issues, which can generate employment, political formations (across the spectrum) take the easy way out by framing the issue as one between insiders and outsiders. A nativist sentiment is built up, and citizens are told that they would have had jobs, but for the fact that those from outside the state have cornered the benefits. The solution then offered is simple — reservation. Desperate for hope, voters tend to see this as a panacea and fall for a promise that will do little to address the real and complex issue of joblessness.
This competitive populism across states is also dangerous. A key constitutional tenet is equality of opportunity and non-discrimination — this push towards policy-based parochialism flouts it. Another key tenet is the freedom to move across the country, and the freedom to reside and settle anywhere and practise any profession — the measures adopted by various states will hamper those rights. An important principle that the Constitution strives to inculcate among citizens is fraternity —and this is possible only when there is engagement between citizens from different parts of the country, which such policies will only discourage. There is a real jobs crisis. But states turning insular will not solve that crisis, and, instead, create other challenges for national integration. Evolve a consensus across parties and states and refrain from this form of dangerous populism.