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Bihar Sees a Generational Shift in Political Landscape as Joblessness Unites Castes, Religions

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

According to data from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) that has been quoted by several media outlets, the unemployment percentage in Bihar in April jumped by 33 percentage points to 46.6%.

Of the 7.18 crore voters in Bihar, nearly 3.66 crore voters are below the age of 39. In other words, half of Bihar's electorate is young voters. This figure includes 78 lakh youths who will cast their ballots for the first time. Given the differences of caste, gender, religion and finance among them, could there still be some resonance among this potential constituency as it goes to the polling booths over the next two weeks?

"I have been travelling across many constituencies for several days now. And I can tell you that caste barriers are melting at several places for the youth," said Kanhaiya Bhelari, a senior journalist and managing editor of a Bihar focused news portal called Newshaat. Many voters have seen only Nitish as the Chief Minister for the past 15 years and though they may not be angry with him, but they wouldn't mind looking at a new face.

"It's a bit like Sachin Tendulkar in his last days. Everyone was of the opinion that although he was a great player, he needed some rest now. It was time to look at the youngsters with a lot of hunger in their stomach, waiting in the shadows to prove themselves," Bhelari said.

The hunger which Bhelari mentioned has arguably been stoked further by poll promises made by RJD's Tejashwi Yadav. Many agree with the view that the 10 lakh government jobs that he has promised may be undeliverable, but nobody argues with the fact that he has single-handedly brought the poll campaign around this single issue.

According to data from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) that has been quoted by several media outlets, the unemployment percentage in Bihar in April jumped by 33 percentage points to 46.6%.

According to CMIE data, the unemployment rate for those between 15-29 years of age was the second highest in the country at 30.9%. Bihar also has the second highest number of casual workers after Andhra Pradesh. Many of these workers, lakhs of who returned to their homes in Bihar after nationwide lockdown was announced, still have not been able to find proper jobs yet. At such a time the promise of a stable government job, as assured by Tejashwi Yadav, and mentioned in his party's manifesto, comes as a huge attraction to the young.

"In a way Tejashwi Yadav today is in the same space as Narendra Modi in 2014. It's not a perfect comparison but Tejashwi Yadav knows he needs a little something to fight the coordinated might of two parties that have been in power for a long time. He knows it may not be deliverable. Even the young know that all 10 lakh jobs may not materialise. But just as the Prime Minister promised Rs 15 lakh in each account and subsequently 2 crore jobs, Tejashwi is also playing a gamble," Bhelari added.

Contrary to him, a senior political journalist who has for decades reported for almost all the major Hindi dailies, Surendra Kishore, says that while the youth may have its own aspirations, the 10 lakh job promise will not have any major impact on the ground.

"Yes, employment is a big issue. But what Tejashwi is saying, I think few people actually believe in it. From my experience I can tell you that his job promise will not have a decisive effect on the outcome of polls," Kishore argues. He says that people haven't forgotten that during the time of father and mother as Chief Ministers, over 5 lakh vacancies remained unfulfilled. "All the vacancies will not be filled for various reasons. But given the track record of your parents, why will people of Bihar believe you? Everyone knows that there aren't enough resources to provide jobs for so many people. Over 55,000 crore are required. Where will they come from?" Kishore asks.

It is perhaps with the huge young electorate in mind, who have not seen the times of Lalu Yadav and Rabri Devi as Chief Ministers, that Nitish Kumar without fail, in every rally that he addresses the young voters and tells them about the previous RJD regime. In a Sankalp e-rally 12 days ago, Nitish Kumar said, "I will speak to youngsters about it every day. It is my duty to create a suitable space for the development of youngsters. We are trying to ensure that the situation is created so that no person from Bihar has to go outside looking for work." He also said there was no way that Tejashwi was in a position to deliver on this 10 lakh job promise.

While releasing the manifesto on Saturday morning, Tejashwi Yadav, RJD leader and the Chief Minister face of the opposition, gave the rationale behind his 10 lakh government job promise. "I have been asked several times about how I will create these jobs. Firstly, there are 4.5 lakh vacancies in various government departments, from education to health to police - already earmarked but unfilled in the present regime. On top of that we have calculated that an additional 5.5 lakh jobs are required to bring Bihar's administration at par with the national average," Tejashwi said. He gave the example of Manipur where against every lakh population the state had employed 1000 policemen. "In our state the number of policemen per lakh are 77. These are some of the corrections that we need to make, for which we will create an additional 5.5 lakh vacancies."

The funds for it, he said, will come from the state 2.13 lakh crore budget of which only 60% he claimed was spent. "The remaining 40%, which translated to somewhere close to 80,000 crore will allow us to hire the 10 lakh government employees which is what we have promised will happen after our very first cabinet meeting," Tejashwi said.

The fact that employment has become a real issue, as a welcome change in an assembly election, was clear from how within a day of criticising Tejashwi's poll sop, BJP promised nearly double the number of jobs in its manifesto. Many wondered if BJP and JD(U) found RJD's promise impractical, how was it planning to deliver on its own promise.

Employment may or may not become the decisive factor as the youth goes to the polling booths over the next fortnight to cast their ballots. But what cannot be denied is that these polls will ultimately see a generational shift in Bihar's political landscape. A new rung of leadership including leaders like Tejashwi Yadav, Mukesh Sahani and Chirag Paswan, which follows leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Sushil Modi and Ram Vilas Paswan, who is no more, spent three decades virtually dominating the political space in the state, and which reflects the demography of the electorate on ground.


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