The meticulously clean room is studiously quiet, the only sound that of pages being turned, or a book being placed gently on a table. The facade of the building is glass and the room completely air-conditioned. At the newly constructed Nalanda Parisar, a first-of-its-kind youth library in Raipur, around 200 students are thankful for this space, and yet it may still not be enough for the BJP. While they all study, most for competitive examinations, it is the lack of jobs that many hold the government accountable for. For while there is camaraderie in the room, there is also an edgy competitiveness, born out of the realisation that their numbers far outstrip the jobs available.
No surprise then that the Opposition Congress and Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh Party (JCCP) have highlighted an unemployment stipend in their manifestos. The move forced the ruling BJP to declare a similar stipend in its manifesto as well. Ranjit Kumar (24) is a BCom graduate from the Ravi Shankar Shukla University in Raipur. As he steps out of the youth tower to get lunch, in his hands are five books that coach students for UPSC, PSC, and a myriad other government jobs.
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“My mother is unwell, so leaving Chhattisgarh has never been an option. After BCom, the job options here are very limited, so I have had no choice but to prepare for government entrances. For two years, I found no work,” he said.
Nalanda Parisar was opened earlier this year and was the brainchild of O P Choudhary, then the District Magistrate of Raipur, and now the BJP candidate from Kharsia. Shivangi Prasad, a third-year Dental college student said, “This is such a beautiful space, and I am very happy that the government made this. Now we can study in peace. But a place to study we had even if it wasn’t as nice as this. What we need is the guarantee of jobs. And the government hasn’t done this in five years.”
That the sceptre of unemployment looms large over the Assembly election — official data shows at least 25 lakh registered unemployed in the state — is clear from the focus the Opposition pays to it. In the manifestos of the Congress and the JCCJ-led coalition, an unemployment stipend is a centrepiece with the former offering Rs 2,500 per month for 10 lakh youths in exchange for community service, while the latter offering stipends of Rs 1,001, Rs 1,501, and Rs 2,001 based on different educational qualifications.
While the JCCJ has also promised hundred per cent reservation for those from Chhattisgarh in government jobs, the Congress has made the repeated promise to end “outsourcing”.
On its part, even the BJP has made a declaration of an unemployment stipend in its manifesto. Senior party leaders admit that the lack of jobs, especially among the youth may be a factor that may dent their popularity, but said that the development of a new state is a gradual process.
“We are confident that the youth will see the work we have done for them. There is a process to all this, and an enabling environment needs to be developed. World-class institutions like IIM-Raipur and AIIMS are now coming here, and private investment will follow, and generate quality employment,” a senior BJP leader said.
However, away from the shiny glass building in the capital, on the streets of Bilaigarh of Baloda Bazaar district, a group of four boys whiling away their time playing cards have another question to ask.
“I went to Raipur, and there may even be work there. But here, in our districts, what can we do to earn money? I am afraid that my education till Class 12 won’t be enough,” said Kapil Purena. His father Akhil, standing at a small pan stall nearby outside identifies the problem differently.
“These children have grown up watching us struggle in the fields, and don’t want to do that. Why would they? They have TV, and videos on their mobile phones that show them the world. We have one crop, and the rains ruin that most of the time. In the other months, I have to go to Uttar Pradesh as a labourer to earn money. There is no irrigation so there is no second crop. So, they look at our lives and don’t want that for themselves, and when they look for work, there isn’t any,” he said.
The 23-year-old son said that he would vote for the third time in his life, but would not for the first time, vote for “murga aur sharaab.” “The Congress and BSP (the BSP is contesting Bilaigarh on behalf of the coalition) both have vans going around saying they will give us money for some work and will help us find more. I haven’t decided which among those two. But those are my choices for this election,” Purena said.
Common among Purena in Bilaigarh and Kumar and Prasad in Raipur is their respect for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but if in 2014 there was almost a blind affection, other variables are now entering the assessment.
Prasad said she was growing to like Rahul Gandhi as well and had followed his speeches for the first time this election season. More importantly, however, there are some that are separating the state from the Centre, even to send a message.
Kumar said, “There are still so many students that live in my hostel who like the Prime Minister and will vote for the BJP. But, maybe winning every state is not good. There needs to some check and balance. So if the Congress can make some changes in this state, and the BJP realises they still have work to do for the youth at the centre, to fulfil their promises of jobs, that may be the best scenario. After that, we will see in 2019.”