Nitin Gadkari is right: There aren’t enough government jobs to go around
Responding to questions on the Maratha reservation agitation last week, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari was candid about limitation of reservations in dealing with the employment crisis. “Even if reservation is given, there are no jobs. Jobs in banks have shrunk because of information technology. Government recruitment is frozen,” Gadkari said. He also added that his statement reflected “socio-economic thinking” and appealed that it should not be politicised. On Monday, Congress president Rahul Gandhi appeared to do just that. In a tweet quoting Gadkari’s statement, Rahul tried to link Gadkari’s comments with the ongoing debate about job-creation under the present government.
The debate on employment performance of the Narendra Modi government will not be resolved until latest employment numbers from National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) are released. However, this need not stop us from examining the merits of Gadkari’s comments. Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) gives numbers on organised sector employment – public and private – from 1971-72 to 2011-12. Reservations are only valid in public sector jobs. Therefore, growth in public sector jobs is a useful metric to gauge the usefulness of reservations in solving employment problems of the social groups who either enjoy reservations or are demanding it.
The following chart shows the trajectory of three key metrics: share of public sector in total organised sector employment and annual growth of public sector and total organised sector employment. Public sector’s share in total organised sector employment was rising till the 1980s, however the tide turned with the liberalisation of the Indian economy. This is not very difficult to explain. One of the key thrusts of India’s liberalisation push has been a withdrawal of the government from various spheres of economic activity. (Chart 1 here)
The story is even bleaker in terms of growth. Deceleration in organised sector employment growth predates India’s economic liberalisation. The other way to look at is can be that even liberalisation failed to reverse this trend. While there was a break in this trend in from 2004-05, which broadly corresponds with the economic boom, it was the private sector enjoyed the fruits of this reversal. This is evident from the fact that total organised sector jobs grew at a faster rate than growth in public sector employment. There are no reservations in the private sector.
Another factor could have sown the roots of reservations protests among dominant farming communities. A large number of organised private sector jobs in this century are bound to have come in modern service sector areas such as Information Technology. These are areas where timely access to technical education is likely to have paid huge dividends. It is eminently possible that large section of dominant farming communities did not realise the importance of doing this in time in the belief that their clout in the farm economy would continue to sustain their well-being. With their non-skilled education endowments (such as graduation degrees) job-seekers from such groups might only be qualified for low-end government jobs. Such aspirations also explain the push for demanding reservations in the last decade or so. The deepening of agrarian crisis must have made matters even worse.
Gadkari is right in saying that demanding reservations will not provide a sustainable solution to this problem. Still, it is in the nature of politics to make such statements. And almost all political parties have been opportunistic about reservations. Most parties, including the BJP have placated caste-based movements demanding reservations eyeing political gains. Nitin Gadkari’s honest comments on the topic are more an exception rather than the rule. And it does reflect a socio-economic reality.