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Rahul Gandhi’s 5 'Yuva Nyay' Promises are Important. Will They Appeal to Voters?

What is lacking is the ability to translate the guarantees into a well-coordinated electoral strategy,

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Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi recently announced five pre-poll guarantees to the youth during his renewed Bharat Jodo Yatra.

He said, Youth of the country! Congress is giving you five historic guarantees which will change your destiny:

1. Recruitment Trust: Guarantee of immediate permanent appointment to 30 lakh government posts.

2. First job assured: Guaranteed apprenticeship with a stipend of ₹1 lakh per year for every graduate and diploma holder.

3. Freedom from paper leaks: Guarantee of conducting examinations in a reliable manner by making a new law to stop paper leaks.

4. Social security in the GIG economy: Guaranteed better working conditions, pensions and social security for the workforce of the GIG economy.

5. Yuva Roshni: Guaranteed to make youth entrepreneurs by giving them start-up funds at the district level from the national fund of ₹5,000 crore.

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Youth Unemployment and Underemployment Crisis 

To get a better sense of the numbers, look closely at some of the employment-related statistics sourced from the unit-level PLFS (Periodic Labour Force Survey) data, as summarised by the Centre for Economic Data and Analysis (CEDA):

  • As of 2022-23, only 42.1 percent of India’s youth (aged 15-29 years) were part of its labour force with this share being 61.6 percent for young men, and only 19.7 percent for young women

  • Among those in the labour force, 13.2 percent were unemployed in 2022-23, with this share being higher for women, and for those with higher levels of education

  • Young workers are most likely to be working in the service sector in urban areas, while in rural areas, agriculture continues to be the largest employment sector

  • Less than a third of the youth was employed in regular/salaried jobs in 2022-23

The much debated LFPR (Labor Force Participation Rate) among the 15-19 age group, when many are still part of the education system, is still the lowest.  

According to a report by CEDA, “By 2022-23, 22.7 per cent of young men and 7.7 per cent of young women of this age group were in the labour force. While the LFPR of young men aged 15-19 years has seen a small decline in both urban and rural India in the last six years, for young women in this cohort, especially those in rural areas, the LFPR has seen a small (3.7 percentage points) rise between 2017-18 and 2022-23. The youth is most likely to be working in the services sector, but in rural areas, agriculture still dominates.”

India’s service sector was indeed the major employer of the youth in the country (as per employment data in 2022-23) i.e., with an overall share of 32.7 per cent, followed by other sectors like agriculture, forestry, and fishing with a combined share of 32.4 per cent. A fifth of the overall employed workers were then found to be working in the construction sector and the rest in manufacturing. 

Labour-intensive areas and opportunities for employment for the youth have seen a stagnant trend for years now. Young men with less education are more likely to be engaged in construction and low-paid manufacturing work (daily wages), while younger women (less educated) may look for opportunities in service and manufacturing where demand for work for women remains very low. Women also face other challenges like a higher wage gap.  

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Gig Economy Workers' Tryst with State-Apathy and Policy-Vacuum 

Gandhi is also right in his approach to providing a better social security net for those employed in the ‘gig’ economy. According to a recent World Bank estimate, the ‘gig economy’ accounts for up to 12 per cent of the global labour market – much higher than previously estimated – holding promise for women and the youth in developing countries. Demand for online gig work is growing rapidly, but social protections for workers in this segment are still lacking. 

As the status of a gig worker doesn’t fall under the legal ambit of an employee but as an independent contractor, companies and platforms need not incur any contributions to the worker’s social security.

The participation of women in this sector (with numbers ranging  below 30 per cent)  is also limited due to the vague categorisation of a worker. The report from the Indian Social Sciences Trust on Women Workers in the Gig Economy highlights that they receive lower pay and less favourable contracts than their male counterparts. Issues of harassment also tend to get swept under the rug, with women choosing to stay at home rather than be out on the roads late at night. Despite the policy adopted by Swiggy last year, the issue of harassment at the workplace in companies such as Urban Company and Uber has discouraged women from participating.

Costs associated with the work also often get borne by the gig worker, who has to contend with low incomes and the burdens of taking loans. Workers are responsible for costs associated with getting their own modes of transport in the case of Uber or Zomato. Even maintenance and fuel costs are accrued to the driver.

The Rajasthan government recently passed the Platform Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Act, granting workers social security benefits like accident and health insurance, pension, and a revenue-based tax on the platforms and aggregators to be contributed to an employee welfare fund. Similar laws are also being considered in states like Karnataka, which recently announced accidental insurance coverage for gig workers. Advancements are also being made closer to the national capital, where the Labour Department of Haryana recognised the status of Urban Company workers as employees, thus entitled to social protection.

While clarifications of the legal definition of gig workers, and protections associated with them, are yet to come into effect at the national level, such efforts in the states show that Rahul Gandhi’s push is a step in the right direction. 

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Limited Electoral Appeal of the Guarantees

But if Rahul Gandhi had been more serious about the concerns highlighted, the Congress would have done more to enable the INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) bloc to amplify the message on each of the five guarantees. Making a social media post announcement without seeing these as part of a coordinated nationwide campaign projects the ‘promise’ to sound more like empty rhetoric than an actual campaign offering.

For example, in Karnataka, the Congress had promised similar guarantees before winning the elections. The entire state-level campaigning for the assembly elections had successfully sent a coordinated message which allowed state voters (across age groups) to consolidate their macro-vote around what was the opposition party at the time.  

So, while the youth and the women of Karnataka might have preferred voting for the Congress in 2023 (and a key role could have been played by the promised electoral guarantees), the evidence for the same pattern repeating itself in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. For example, a closer analysis of the voting patterns emerging from Karnataka and other states itself helps validate this corollary in a state vs national election contest between the BJP and the Congress party.

So, even though Rahul Gandhi’s five guarantees may be raising the right issues affecting the youth of the nation, what is lacking in his leadership is the ability to translate this into a well-coordinated electoral strategy, in both communication and commitment.

(Deepanshu Mohan is Professor of Economics and Director, Centre for New Economics Studies (CNES), at the Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, OP Jindal Global University. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  bharat jodo yatra 

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