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BW Businessworld

Himachal Polls: Youth Want Jobs, Not Fancy Speeches

Elections in Himachal Pradesh will be held in November 2022 to elect 68 members of the HP legislative assembly and the tenure is scheduled to end on 8 January 2023. BJP's Jai Ram Thakur is the current chief minister

Photo Credit : Abhishek Sharma

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With the frequent arrival of the central leadership in Himachal Pradesh, the political activity for the legislative assembly elections has intensified in the state. In order to take the campaign on a higher note, leaders like BJP president JP Nadda and Sambit Patra have marked their presence.

In Himachal, it has seen contests mainly between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress since 1990. However, the entry of Arvind Kejriwal led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) after a crushing victory in Punjab has shaken the political environment. 

To counter the AAP and its promise of freebies in the state, the Himachal Pradesh government led by BJP leader and Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has announced free power up to 150 units and a 50 per cent discount on travelling in HRTC buses for women along with the free water in villages. 

To know more, BW Businessworld travelled to different parts of district Sirmaur of Himachal Pradesh to see what issues voters want to highlight (especially youth) in the upcoming elections. On the ground, BW found that unemployment, inflation and freebies are the major points of discussion. 

"The rate of taxes on goods and services should be determined so consumers are not burdened with taxes at a higher rate. Similarly, it has to be kept in mind that traders and small scale manufacturers are able to stand in competition with height scale benefits of corporate entities," said Kritika Chauhan, 24 years old who is preparing for Himachal Pradesh Public Service Commission (HPPSC). 

Chauhan finished her graduation in 2018 and since then she has joined the decade-old Mahima library to prepare for the government examinations. She wakes up early in the morning and devotes most of her time there. 

Government-run, Mahima library in Nahan, District Sirmaur, Himachal Pradesh

However, Chauhan is disappointed due to the current scenario and rising unemployment in the state. "Youth needs employment, not freebies. We want to make a difference for our nation which we can not execute by freebies," Chauhan said in a sharp tone. 

HPPSC aspirant Chauhan cited an example of Venezuela and said, "The South American oil-rich country was quite prosperous till 1980 because of an oil price boom. Successive governments then began to offer everything free from food to public transport. The country, which imported 70 per cent of food, faced an economic crisis soon after the oil prices started crumbling and corruption became rampant," said. 

Chauhan added that the government continued to waive off farm loans, further damaging the economy. It took decades for it to recover but the country could never recover fully.

Meanwhile, around 300 students visit the library every day where they study to prepare for the competitive examinations. 

"The latest schemes started by the Himachal government are for the welfare of the general public. Freebies by the government are a small step that will help the public in all, as electricity is the main need of the public. The schemes that are being prepared for women will help them. The different pension schemes will help the old aged and widows to run their houses," said a teacher who wished to be unnamed. 

Freebies politics return:

Many believe that the trend of freebies was hyped by the Aam Aadmi Party with the promises like 8 lakh jobs in the 2015 manifesto along with making Delhi pollution-free in the 2020 manifesto. Other schemes range from free electricity, free water and free WiFi to free bus rides for women.

In 2020, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal tweeted, "Freebies, in limited doses, are good for the economy. It makes more money available to the poor, hence boosting demand. However, it should be done in such limits so that no extra taxes have to be imposed and it does not lead to budget deficits."

Mamata Banerjee led the West Bengal (WB) government and also adopted the same policy. In February 2021, she launched “Maa Canteens", a project worth Rs 100 crore to provide food to the poor at Rs 5. She increased the dearness allowance for WB state government employees by three per cent in January. 

Experts claimed that these schemes are economically unsustainable and could take these states in the same direction as Sri Lanka.

As several state governments dole out 'freebies' to keep voters intact during the election seasons, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu has called for a wider debate on the freebies promised during polls and the possibility of making election manifestos legally binding.

According to media reports, several senior bureaucrats and a few officials also raised concern over populist schemes announced by several states to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a marathon meeting that took place recently. 

PM Modi held the four-hour-long meeting with secretaries of all departments at his camp office which was also attended by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister PK Mishra and Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba and a few other top bureaucrats of the union government, according to media reports.

Career struggles: 

In recent times, students in the state have witnessed irregularities in the government exams for jobs. For instance, authorities had to cancel the police constable recruitment examination after the Kangra police arrested three candidates and an employee of a private institute in connection with the alleged paper leak.

The teacher added that the government is compromising on the future of students by conducting the examinations and cancelling later. Such practices by the administration affect the hard work and dedication of students. "The government should take strict actions against the culprits so that no one can do this in future," the teacher told BW Businessworld. 

Atul, who sat in the police examination after qualifying for the physical round said that he was very disheartening. "I worked very hard to qualify for the physical round and then prepared for the written exam, however, recent development is not what I or anyone who applied for the job wanted. We just need a good job, not speeches after speeches by these political leaders," he said.

Soaring Inflation: 

India's retail inflation surged to 7.79 per cent on an annual basis in the month of April, data from the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation showed on Thursday. The rise is attributed to higher edible oil and fuel prices.

"Earlier few items were expensive, however, as suddenly vegetables and other essential things are witnessing price rise with each passing day. Because war is not ending, the rates of several commodities and goods have increased in Himachal Pradesh and this is giving people, especially rural households a tough time," said Subhash, a daily wage worker, told BW Businessworld earlier. 

Meanwhile, the State Bank of India (SBI) in a report said that inflation continues to be a bugbear and it looks unlikely that it will be corrected anytime soon, amid the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. 

The bank said that the latest inflation numbers reveal that while in the rural areas, the impact has been disproportionately higher for food prices, in urban areas it is disproportionately higher as far as fuel price impact and pass-through are concerned. 

Soumya Kanti Ghosh, Group Chief Economic Adviser, SBI said that at least 59 per cent of the increase in inflation is because of geopolitical conflict: Futile to blame central banks.  

Using February as the base case (the beginning of the Ukraine and Russia conflict), the SBI study revealed that because of war, food and beverages and fuel and light and transport contributed 52 per cent of the increase in overall inflation since February.

The study also added that the impact of input costs particularly on the FMCG sector, thus adding the contribution of personal care and effects, the total impact at all India level comes to 59 per cent, purely because of war. 

Against the continued increase in inflation, it is now almost certain that the RBI will raise rates in the forthcoming June and August policy and will take it to the pre-pandemic level of 5.15 per cent by August, the report said.

The inflation forecast for the financial year 2023 is at 6.5 per cent, taking into account the possibility of an extended food price shock, said the State Bank of India in a research report.